THE SONG OF HUGH GLASS
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
NEW YORK BOSTON CHICAGO DALLAS
ATLANTA SAN FRANCISCO
MACMILLAN & CO., LIMITED
LONDON BOMBAY CALCUTTA
THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, LTD.
THE SONG OF
JOHN G. NEIHARDT
JULIUS T. HOUSE
HEAD OF THE DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH AT THE STATR
NORMAL SCHOOL, WAYNE, NEBRASKA
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
All rights reserved
COPYRIGHT, 1915, 1919,
BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.
Set up and electrotyped. Published October, 1915,
J. 8. Gushing Co. Berwick & Smith Co.
Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.
TO SIGURD, SCARCELY THREE
When you are old enough to know
The joys of kite and boat and bow
And other suchlike splendid things
That boyhood's rounded decade brings,
I shall not give you tropes and rhymes ;
But, rising to those rousing times,
I shall ply well the craft I know
Of shaping kite and boat and bow,
For you shall teach me once again
The goodly art of being ten.
Meanwhile, as on a rainy day
When 'tis not possible to play,
The while you do your best to grow
I ply the other craft I know
And strive to build for you the mood
Of daring and of fortitude
With fitted word and shapen phrase,
Against those later wonder-days
When first you glimpse the world of men
Beyond the bleaker side of ten.
THE following narrative is based upon an episode taken
from that much neglected portion of our history, the era
of the American Fur Trade. My interest in that period
may be said to have begun at the age of six when, cling
ing to the forefinger of my father, I discovered the Mis
souri River from a bluff top at Kansas City. It was flood
time, and the impression I received was deep and lasting.
Even now I cannot think of that stream without a thrill
of awe and something of the reverence one feels for
mighty things. It was for me what the sea must have
been to the Greek boys of antiquity. And as those an
cient boys must have been eager to hear of perils nobly
encountered on the deep and in the lands adjacent, so
was I eager to learn of the heroes who had travelled my
river as an imperial road. Nor was I disappointed in
what I learned of them ; for they seemed to me in every
way equal to the heroes of old. I came to think of them
with a sense of personal ownership, for any one of many
of them might have been my grandfather and so a little
of their purple fell on me. As I grew older and came
to possess more of my inheritance, I began to see that
what had enthralled me was, in fact, of the stuff of sagas,
a genuine epic cycle in the rough. Furthermore, I real
ized that this raw material had been undergoing a process
of digestion in my consciousness, corresponding in a way
to the process of infinite repetition and fond elaboration
which, as certain scholars tell us, foreran the heroic nar
ratives of old time.
I decided that some day I would begin to tell these
hero tales in verse ; and in 1 908, as a preparation for
what I had in mind, I descended the Missouri in an
open boat, and also ascended the Yellowstone for a con
siderable distance. On the upper river the country was
practically unchanged ; and for one familiar with what
had taken place there, it was no difficult feat of the
imagination to revive the details of that time the men,
the trails, the boats, the trading posts where veritable
satraps once ruled under the sway of the American Fur
The Hugh Glass episode is to be found in Chitten-
den's < History of the American Fur Trade" where it
is quoted from its three printed sources : the Missouri
Intelligencer, Sage's "Scenes in the Rocky Mountains,"
and Cooke's "Scenes in the United States Army." The
present narrative begins after that military fiasco known
as the Leavenworth Campaign against the Aricaras, which
took place at the mouth of the Grand River in what is
now South Dakota.
J. G. N.
I. GRAYBEARD AND GOLDHAIR .... 1
II. THE AWAKENING 26
III. THE CRAWL , 37
IV. THE RETURN OF THE GHOST .... 94
V. JAMIE 109
IF the average student of Western American History
in our schools were asked to recall those names which
loom large for him during the four decades from the
purchase of the Louisiana Territory to the coming
of the settlers, he would doubtless think of Lewis
and Clark, Lieutenant Pike, Major Long, and General
Fremont, with perhaps one or two others. That is
to say, the average student of Western History is
familiar with the names of official explorers ; and but
for their exploits, those forty wonderful years would
seem to him little more than a lapse of empty time
in a vast region waiting for the westering white man.
It is true that the deeds of those above named
were important. The journey of Lewis and Clark
from St. Louis to the mouth of the Columbia, and
back again, has immense significance in the story of
our national life, and it was truly a "magnificent
adventure," to use the phrase of Emerson Hough.
Pike holds and deserves a high place for his explora
tions in the Southwest. Long's contribution to the
early knowledge of the West was considerable; and
Fremont's expeditions served, at least, to awaken the
popular Eastern mind to the great possibilities of the
Trans-Missouri region. Fremont's reputation, how
ever, is out of all proportion to his real accomplishment,
for the trails he travelled were well known to white
men long before he ventured into the wilderness. In
this connection, Major Chittenden, one of the fore
most authorities on the subject, tells us that "there
never has been a time until very recently when the
geography of the West was so thoroughly understood
as it was by the trader and trapper from 1830 to 1840."
When Lewis and Clark were descending the Mis
souri River in the summer of 1806 on their return from
the mouth of the Columbia, they met bands of traders
pushing on toward the country from whence the ex
plorers had just come. These were the vanguard of
the real history makers of the Early West. It was
such men as these who, during the next generation,
as Chittenden says, "first explored and established
the routes of travel which are now and alwavs will be
the avenues of commerce in that region." The period
that followed the return of Lewis and Clark was one
of the most enthralling in the entire story of the human
race, and yet the very names of its principal heroes
are practically unknown except to specialists in West
ern History. The stories of their exploits have not
yet reached our schools, and are to be found, for the
most part, hidden away in the collections of state
historical societies and in contemporary journals and
books of travel long since out of print. The Mormon
Emigration, the Mexican War, the Gold Rush to
California, and the Oregon Question filled the popular
imagination during the early years of the West, and
thus an important phase of our national development
was overlooked and forgotten.
Nevertheless, it remains true that the story of the
West during the first four decades of the nineteenth
century is the story of the wandering bands of trappers
and traders who explored the wilderness in search of
furs from the British boundary to Mexico and from
the Missouri to the Pacific. History, as written in
the past, has been too much a chronological record of
official governmental acts, too little an intimate ac
count of the lives of the people themselves. Doubt
less, the democratic spirit that now seems to be sweep
ing the world will, if it continues to spread, revolu
tionize our whole conception of history, bringing us
to realize that the glory of the race is not the glory
of a chosen few, but that it radiates from the precious
heroic stuff of common human lives. And that view,
I am proud to say, is quite in keeping with our dearest
Now the fur trade on the Missouri River dates well
back into the eighteenth century, and at the time of
the Revolutionary War, parties of trappers had al*
ready ascended as far north as the Big Bend in the
present state of South Dakota. But it was not until
after the return of Lewis and Clark from the North
west, and of Lieutenant Pike from the Southwest,
that the great era of the fur trade began. In 1807
the Spanish trader, Manuel Lisa, ascended the
Missouri and the Yellowstone to the mouth of the
Big Horn, where he erected a trading post. Return
ing to St. Louis the next year, he became the leading
spirit in the "St. Louis Missouri Fur Company," the
troubled career of which, during the succeeding fif
teen years, was rich in the stuff of which epics are
made. Major Andrew Henry, who appears in "The
Song of Hugh Glass" as leader of the westbound ex
pedition from the mouth of the Grand River, was a
member of that company, ascending the Missouri to
the Three Forks in the summer of 1809. Driven
thence by the Blackfeet, he crossed the Great Divide
and built a post on what has since been called Henry's
fork of the Snake River, thus being the first American
trader to operate on the Pacific side of the Rockies.
In the spring of 1811, the Overland Astorians, under
the command of W. P. Hunt, left St. Louis, bound for
the mouth of the Columbia where they expected to
join forces with a sea expedition that had set sail from
New York during the previous autumn for the long
and hazardous voyage around Cape Horn. This is
the only widely known expedition in the whole history
of the Trans-Missouri fur trade, thanks to Washington
Irving, whose account of it is an American classic.
During the War of 1812 the fur trade on the Missouri
declined; and though in the year 1819 five companies
of some importance were operating from St. Louis,
none of these was doing a profitable business. The
revival of the trade, which ushered in the great epic
period of our national development, may be dated
from March 2Oth, 1822, when the following adver
tisement appeared in the Missouri Republican of
St. Louis :
To Enterprising Young Men :
The subscriber wishes to engage one hundred young men
to ascend the Missouri River to its source, there to be
employed for one, two or three years. For particulars
enquire of Major Andrew Henry, near the lead mines in
the County of Washington, who will ascend with and
command the party; or of the subscriber near St. Louis.
(Signed) WILLIAM H. ASHLEY.
Major Henry has already been mentioned as a
veteran trader of the upper country. Ashley, who
was at that time General of the Missouri Militia and
Lieutenant Governor of the recently admitted state,
was about to make his first trip into the wilderness.
Setting out in the spring of 1822, Major Henry,
with his one hundred "enterprising young men"
(some of whom were young only in spirit), ascended
to the mouth of the Yellowstone. This was before
the era of the Missouri River steamboat, and the two
kcclboats, that bore the trading stock and supplies
of the party, were "cordelled," that is to say, pulled
by tow-line. General Ashley accompanied the ex
pedition, returning to St. Louis in the fall. Early in
the spring of 1823 he started north again with a second
band of one hundred men, Stopping to trade for
horses at the Ree villages near the mouth of the Grand,
he was attacked by that most treacherous of the
Missouri River tribes, received a sound drubbing, lost
most of his horses, and was compelled to drop down
stream to await reinforcements. It was in this battle
that old Hugh Glass received his hip wound.
Jedediah Smith, who was a member of the defeated
party, and who had fought with conspicuous bravery,
volunteered to carry the news of disaster to Henry
at the mouth of the Yellowstone. He was then but
twenty-four years old; yet during the next six years
he was destined to discover and explore the central
and southwestern routes to the Pacific an achieve
ment of equal importance with that of Lewis and
Clark, and performed under much greater difficulties.
Immediately upon the arrival of Smith at the mouth
of the Yellowstone, Henry, with most of his band,
started south to the relief of Ashley.
In the meanwhile, Ashley had apprised the Indian
Agent and military authorities at Fort Atkinson of his
rough treatment; and Colonel Leavenworth started
north with 220 men, intent upon chastising the Rees
and making the Missouri River safe for American
traders. The campaign that followed, in which the
Whites were aided by a band of Sioux, was in some
important respects a fiasco, as the opening lines of the
poem suggest. But that does not greatly matter here.
What does matter, is the fact that the muster roll
of the two parties of Ashley and Henry, then united
at the mouth of the Grand, contained nearly all of the
great names in the history of the West from the time
of Lewis and Clark to the coming of the settlers.
Harrison Clifford Dale, whose " Ashley-Smith Ex
plorations to the Pacific'* easily ranks him as the
supreme authority on this particular period, has the
following to say regarding the Ashley-Henry men :
"The wanderings of this group during the next ten
or fifteen years cover the entire West. ... It was the
most significant group of continental explorers ever
After the Leavenworth campaign against the Rees,
Major Henry, with eighty men, set out for the mouth
of the Big Horn by way of the Grand River valley.
Hugh Glass acted as hunter for the \Vestbound party,
and it is at this point that the following narrative be
gins. Old Glass was not himself an explorer, yet his
adventures serve to illustrate the heroic temper of
the men who explored the West, as well as the nature
of the difficulties they encountered.
In building the epic cycle, of which "The Song of
Hugh Glass" and "The Song of Three Friends" are
parts (each, however, being complete in itself), I am
concerned with the wanderings of that group of men
who were assembled for the last time at the mouth of
the Grand. Long ago, when I was younger than most
of you who are now about to study the poem here
presented, I dreamed of making those men live again
for the young men and women of my country. The
tremendous mood of heroism that was developed in
our American West during that period is properly a
part of your racial inheritance ; and certainly no less
important a part than the memory of ancient heroes.
Indeed, it can be shown that those men Kentuck-
ians, Virginians, Pennsylvanians, Ohioans were
direct descendants, in the epic line, of all the heroes
of our Aryan race that have been celebrated by the
poets of he Past; descendants of Achilles and Hector,
of ./Eneas, of Roland, of Sigurd, and of the knights
of Arthur's court. They went as torch-bearers in the
van of our westering civilization. Your Present is,
in a great measure', a heritage from their Past.
And their blood is in your veins !
JOHN G. NEIHARDT.
THE SONG OF HUGH GLASS
SONG OF HUGH GLASS
GRAYBEARD AND GOLDHAIR
The year was eighteen hundred twenty three.
'TwAS when the guns that blustered at the Ree
Had ceased to brag, and ten score martial clowns
Turned from the unwhipped Aricara towns,
Earning the scornful laughter of the Sioux.
A withering blast the arid South still blew,
And creeks ran thin beneath the glaring sky;
For 'twas a month ere honking geese would fly
Southward before the Great White Hunter's face :
And many generations of their race,
As bow-flung arrows, now have fallen spent.
It happened then that Major Henry went
With eighty trappers up the dwindling Grand,
Bound through the weird, unfriending barren-land
For where the Big Horn meets the Yellowstone ;
And old Hugh Glass went with them.
Large of bone,
2 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
Deep-chested, that his great heart might have
Gray-bearded, gray of eye and crowned with gray
Was Glass. It seemed he never had been young;
And, for the grudging habit of his tongue,
None knew the place or season of his birth.
Slowly he 'woke to anger or to mirth ;
Yet none laughed louder when the rare mood
And hate in him was like a still, white hell,
A thing of doom not lightly reconciled.
What memory he kept of wife or child
Was never told ; for when his comrades sat
About the evening fire with pipe and chat,
Exchanging talk of home and gentler days,
Old Hugh stared long upon the pictured blaze,
And what he saw went upward in the smoke.
But once, as with an inner lightning stroke,
The veil was rent, and briefly men discerned
What pent-up fires of selfless passion burned
Beneath the still gray smoldering of him.
There was a rakehell lad, called Little Jim,
Jamie -or Petit Jacques; for scarce began
The downy beard to mark him for a man.
Blue-eyed was he and femininely fair.
A maiden might have coveted his hair
GRAYBEARD AND GOLDHAIR 3
That trapped the sunlight in its tangled skein :
So, tardily, outflowered the wild blond strain
That gutted Rome grown overfat in sloth.
A Ganymedes haunted by a Goth
Was Jamie. When the restive ghost was laid,
He seemed some fancy-ridden child who played
At manliness 'mid all those bearded men. .
The sternest heart was drawn to Jamie then.
But his one mood ne'er linked two hours together.
To schedule Jamie's way, as prairie weather,
Was to get fact by wedding doubt and whim ;
For very lightly slept that ghost in him.
No cloudy brooding went before his wrath
That, like a thunder-squall, recked not its path,
But raged upon what happened in its way.
Some called him brave who saw him on that day
When Ashley stormed a bluff town of the Ree,
And all save beardless Jamie turned to flee
For shelter from that steep, lead-harrowed slope.
Yet, hardly courage, but blind rage agrope
Inspired the foolish deed.
'Twas then old Hugh
Tore off the gray mask, and the heart shone
For, halting in a dry, flood-guttered draw,
The trappers rallied, looked aloft and saw
4 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
That travesty of war against the sky.
Out of a breathless hush, the old man's cry
Leaped shivering, an anguished cry and wild
As of some mother fearing for her child,
And up the steep he went with mighty bounds.
Long afterward the story went the rounds,
How old Glass fought that day. With gun for
Grim as a grizzly fighting for a cub,
He laid about him, cleared the way, and so,
Supported by the firing from below,
Brought Jamie back. And when the deed was
Taking the lad upon his knee : "My Son,
Brave men are not ashamed to fear," said Hugh,
"And I've a mind to make a man of you;
So here's your first acquaintance with the law!"
Whereat he spanked the lad with vigorous paw
And, having done so, limped away to bed ;
For, wounded in the hip, the old man bled.
It was a month before he hobbled out,
And Jamie, like a fond son, hung about
The old man's tent and waited upon him.
And often would the deep gray eyes grow dim
With gazing on the boy ; and there would go
As though Spring-fire should waken out of snow
GRAYBEARD AND GOLDHAIR 5
A wistful light across that mask of gray.
And once Hugh smiled his enigmatic way,
While poring long on Jamie's face, and said :
"So with their sons are women brought to bed,
Sore wounded !"
Thus united were the two :
.And some would dub the old man 'Mother Hugh' ;
While those in whom all living waters sank
To some dull inner pool that teemed and stank
With formless evil, into that morass
Gazed, and saw darkly there, as in a glass,
The foul shape of some weakly envied sin.
For each man builds a world and dwells therein.
Nor could these know what mocking ghost of
Stirred Hugh's gray world with dreams of blossom
That wooed no seed to swell or bird to sing.
So might a dawn-struck digit of the moon
Dream back the rain of some old lunar June
And ache through all its craters to be green.
Little they know what life's one love can mean,
Who shrine it in a bower of peace and bliss :
Pang dwelling in a puckered cicatrice
More truly figures this belated love.
Yet very precious was the hurt thereof,
Grievous to bear, too dear to cast away.
6 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
Now Jamie went with Hugh ; but who shall say
If 'twas a warm heart or a wind of whim,
Love, or the rover's teasing itch in him,
Moved Jamie ? Howsoe'er, 'twas good to see
Graybeard and Goldhair riding knee to knee,
One age in young adventure. One who saw
Has likened to a February thaw
Hugh's mellow mood those days ; and truly so,
For when the tempering Southwest wakes to blow
A phantom April over melting snow,
Deep in the North some new white wrath is
Out of a dim-trailed inner solitude
The old man summoned many a stirring story,
Lived grimly once, but now shot through with
Caught from the wondering eyes of him who
Tales jagged with the bleak unstudied word,
Stark saga-stuff. "A fellow that I knew,"
So nameless went the hero that was Hugh
A mere pelt merchant, as it seemed to him ;
Yet trailing epic thunders through the dim,
Whist world of Jamie's awe.
And so they went,
One heart, it seemed, and that heart well content
With tale and snatch of song and careless laughter.
GRAYBEARD AND GOLDHAIR 7
Never before, and surely never after,
The gray old man seemed nearer to his youth
That myth that somehow had to be the truth,
Yet could not be convincing any more.
Now when the days of travel numbered four
And nearer drew the barrens with their need,
On Glass, the hunter, fell the task to feed
Those four score hungers when the game should
For no young eye could trace so dim a trail,
Or line the rifle sights with speed so true.
Nor might the wistful Jamie go with Hugh ;
''For," so Hugh chaffed, "my trick of getting
Might teach young eyes to put old eyes to
An old dog never risks his only bone."
' Wolves prey in packs, the lion hunts alone '
Is somewhat nearer what he should have meant.
And so with merry jest the old man went ;
And so they parted at an unseen gate
That even then some gust of moody fate
Clanged to betwixt them ; each a tale to spell
One in the nightmare scrawl of dreams from hell,
One in the blistering trail of days a-crawl,
8 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
Venomous footed. Nor might it ere befall
These two should meet in after days and be
Graybeard and Goldhair riding knee to knee,
Recounting with a bluff, heroic scorn
The haps of either tale.
'Twas early morn
When Hugh went forth, and all day Jamie rode
With Henry's men, while more and more the
Of eager youth sore fretted him, and made
The dusty progress of the cavalcade
The journey of a snail flock to the moon ;
Until the shadow-weaving afternoon
Turned many fingers nightward then he fled,
Pricking his horse, nor deigned to turn his head
At any dwindling voice of reprimand ;
For somewhere in the breaks along the Grand
Surely Hugh waited with a goodly kill.
Hoofbeats of ghostly steeds on every hill,
Mysterious, muffled hoofs on every bluff!
Spurred echo horses clattering up the rough
Confluent draws ! These flying Jamie heard.
The lagging air droned like the drowsy word
Of one who tells weird stories late at night.
Half headlong joy and half delicious fright,
His day-dream's pace outstripped the plunging
GRAYBEARD AND GOLDHAIR 9
Lean galloper in a wind of splendid deeds,
Like Hugh's, he seemed unto himself, until,
Snorting, a-haunch above a breakneck hill,
The horse stopped short then Jamie was aware
Of lonesome flatlands fading skyward there
Beneath him, and, zigzag on either hand,
A purple haze denoted how the Grand
Forked wide 'twixt sunset and the polar star.
A-tiptoe in the stirrups, gazing far,
He saw no Hugh nor any moving thing,
Save for a welter of cawing crows, a-wing
About some banquet in the further hush.
One faint star, set above the fading blush
Of sunset, saw the coming night, and grew.
With hand for trumpet, Jamie gave halloo ;
And once again. For answer, the horse neighed.
Some vague mistrust now made him half afraid
Some formless dread that stirred beneath the will
As far as sleep from waking.
Down -the hill,
Close-footed in the skitter of the shale,
The spurred horse floundered to the solid vale
And galloped to the northwest, whinnying.
The outstripped air moaned like a wounded thing;
But Jamie gave the lie unto his dread.
"The old man's camping out to-night," he said,
io SONG OF HUGH GLASS
" Somewhere about the forks, as like as not ;
And there'll be hunks of fresh meat steaming hot,
And fighting stories by a dying fire!"
The sunset reared a luminous phantom spire
That, crumbling, sifted ashes down the sky.
Now, pausing, Jamie sent a searching cry
Into the twilit river-skirting brush,
And in the vast denial of the hush
The champing of the snaffled horse seemed loud.
Then, startling as a voice beneath a shroud,
A muffled boom woke somewhere up the stream
And, like vague thunder hearkened in a dream,
Drawled back to silence. Now, with heart a-
Keen for the quarter of the perished sound,
The lad spurred gaily ; for he doubted not
His cry had brought Hugh's answering rifle shot.
The laggard air was like a voice that sang,
And Jamie half believed he sniffed the tang
Of woodsmoke and the smell of flesh a-roast ;
When presently before him, like a ghost,
Upstanding, huge in twilight, arms flung wide,
A gray form loomed. The wise horse reared and
GRAYBEARD AND GOLDHAIR 11
Snorting his inborn terror of the bear !
And in the whirlwind of a moment there,
Betwixt the brute's hoarse challenge and the
The lad beheld, upon the grassy marge
Of a small spring that bullberries stooped to scan,
A ragged heap that should have been a man,
A huddled, broken thing and it was Hugh !
There was no need for any closer view.
As, on the instant of a lightning flash
Ere yet the split gloom closes with a crash,
A landscape stares with every circumstance
Of rock and shrub just so the fatal chance
Of Hugh's one shot, made futile with surprise,
Was clear to Jamie. Then before his eyes
The light whirled in a giddy dance of red ;
And, doubting not the crumpled thing was dead
That was a friend, with but a skinning knife
He would have striven for the hated life
That triumphed there : but with a shriek of fright
The mad horse bolted through the falling night,
And Jamie, fumbling at his rifle boot,
Heard the brush crash behind him where the brute
Came headlong, close upon the straining flanks.
But when at length low-lying river banks
White rubble in the gloaming glimmered near,
12 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
A swift thought swept the mind of Jamie clear
Of anger and of anguish for the dead.
Scarce seemed the raging beast a thing to dread,
But some foul-playing braggart to outwit.
Now hurling all his strength upon the bit,
He sank the spurs, and with a groan of pain
The plunging horse, obedient to the rein,
Swerved sharply streamward. Sliddering in the
The bear shot past. And suddenly the Grand
Loomed up beneath and rose to meet the pair
That rode a moment upon empty air,
Then smote the water in a shower of spray.
And when again the slowly ebbing day
Came back to them, a-drip from nose to flank,
The steed was scrambling up the further bank,
And Jamie saw across the narrow stream,
Like some vague shape of fury in a dream,
The checked beast ramping at the water's rim.
Doubt struggled with a victor's thrill in him.
As, hand to buckle of the rifle-sheath,
He thought of dampened powder; but beneath
The rawhide flap the gun lay snug and dry.
Then as the horse wheeled and the mark went by
A patch of shadow dancing upon gray -
He fired. A sluggish thunder trailed away ;
The spreading smoke-rack lifted slow, and there,
GRAYBEARD AND GOLDHAIR 13
Floundering in a seethe of foam, the bear
Hugged yielding water for the foe that slew !
Triumphant, Jamie wondered what old Hugh
Would think of such a "trick of getting game" !
"Young eyes" indeed ! And then that memory
Like a dull blade thrust back into a wound.
One moment 'twas as though the lad had swooned
Into a dream-adventure, waking there
To sicken at the ghastly land, a-stare
Like some familiar face gone strange at last.
But as the hot tears came, the moment passed.
Song snatches, broken tales a troop forlorn,
Like merry friends of eld come back to mourn
O'erwhelmed him there. And when the black
The star-flecked stream no longer, Jamie turned,
Recrossed the river and rode back to Hugh.
A burning twist of valley grasses threw
Blear light about the region of the spring.
Then Jamie, torch aloft and shuddering,
Knelt there beside his friend, and moaned : "O
If I had been with you just been with you !
We might be laughing now and you are dead."
14 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
With gentle hand he turned the hoary head
That he might see the good gray face again.
The torch burned out, the dark swooped back, and
His grief was frozen with an icy plunge
In horror. 'Twas as though a bloody sponge
Had wiped the pictured features from a slate !
So, pillaged by an army drunk with hate,
Home stares upon the homing refugee.
A red gout clung where either brow should be;
The haughty nose lay crushed amid the beard,
Thick with slow ooze, whence like a devil leered
The battered mouth convulsed into a grin.
Nor did the darkness cover, for therein
Some torch, unsnuffed, with blear funereal flare,
Still painted upon black that alien stare
To make the lad more terribly alone.
Then in the gloom there rose a broken moan,
Quick stifled ; and it seemed that something
About the body. Doubting that he heard,
The lad felt, with a panic catch of breath,
Pale vagrants from the legendry of death
Potential in the shadows there. But when
The motion and the moaning came again,
GRAYBEARD AND GOLDHAIR 15
Hope, like a shower at daybreak, cleansed the
And in the lad's heart something like a lark
Sang morning. Bending low, he crooned :
It's Jamie don't you know ? I'm here with
As one who in a nightmare strives to tell
Shouting across the gap of some dim hell
What things assail him ; so it seemed Hugh heard,
And flung some unintelligible word
Athwart the muffling distance of his swoon.
Now kindled by the yet unrisen moon,
The East went pale; and like a naked thing
A little wind ran vexed and shivering
Along the dusk, till Jamie shivered too
And worried lest 'twere bitter cold where Hugh
Hung clutching at the bleak, raw edge of life.
So Jamie rose, and with his hunting-knife
Split wood and built a fire. Nor did he fear
The staring face now, for he found it dear
With the warm presence of a friend returned.
The fire made cozy chatter as it burned,
And reared a tent of light in that lone place.
Then Jamie set about to bathe the face
1 6 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
With water from the spring, oft crooning low,
"It's Jamie here beside you don't you know ?"
Yet came no answer save the labored breath
Of one who wrestled mightily with Death
Where watched no referee to call the foul.
The moon now cleared the world's end, and the
Gave voice unto the wizardry of light ;
While in some dim-lit chancel of the night,
Snouts to the goddess, wolfish corybants
Intoned their wild antiphonary chants
The oldest, saddest worship in the world.
And Jamie watched until the firelight swirled
Softly about him. Sound and glimmer merged
To make an eerie void, through which he urged
With frantic spur some whirlwind of a steed
That made the way as glass beneath his speed,
Yet scarce kept pace with something dear that fled
On, ever on just half a dream ahead :
Until it seemed, by some vague shape dismayed,
He cried aloud for Hugh, and the steed neighed
A neigh that was a burst of light, not sound.
And Jamie, sprawling on the dewy ground,
Knew that his horse was sniffing at his hair,
While, mumbling through the early morning air,
GRAYBEARD AND GOLDHAIR 17
There came a roll of many hoofs and then
He saw the swinging troop of Henry's men
A-canter up the valley with the sun.
Of all Hugh's comrades crowding round, not one
But would have given heavy odds on Death ;
For, though the graybeard fought with sobbing
No man, it seemed, might break upon the hip
So stern a wrestler with the strangling grip
That made the neck veins like a purple thong
Tangled with knots. Nor might Hugh tarry long
There where the trail forked outward far and
Or so it seemed. And when they lifted him,
His moan went treble like a song of pain,
He was so tortured. Surely it were vain
To hope he might endure the toilsome ride
Across the barrens. Better let him bide
There on the grassy couch beside the spring.
And, furthermore, it seemed a foolish thing
That eighty men should wait the issue there;
For dying is a game of solitaire
And all men play the losing hand alone.
But when at noon he had not ceased to moan,
And fought still like the strong man he had been,
1 8 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
There grew a vague mistrust that he might win,
And all this be a tale for wondering ears.
So Major Henry called for volunteers,
Two men among the eighty who would stay
To wait on Glass and keep the wolves away
Until he did whatever he should do.
All quite agreed 'twas bitter bread for Hugh,
Yet none, save Jamie, felt in duty bound
To run the risk until the hat went round,
And pity wakened, at the silver's clink,
In Jules Le Bon.
'He would not have them think
That mercenary motives prompted him.
But somehow just the grief of Little Jim
Was quite sufficient not to mention Hugh.
He weighed the risk. As everybody knew,
The Rickarees were scattered to the West :
The late campaign had stirred a hornet's nest
To fill the land with stingers (which was so),
Three days a southwest wind may blow
False April with no drop of dew at heart.
So Jules ran on, while, ready for the start,
The pawing horses nickered and the men,
Impatient in their saddles, yawned. And then,
With brief advice, a round of blufF good-byes
GRAYBEARD AND GOLDHAIR 19
And some few reassuring backward cries,
The troop rode up the valley with the day.
Intent upon his friend, with naught to say,
Sat Jamie; while Le Bon discussed at length
The reasonable limits of man's strength
A self-conducted dialectic strife
That made absurd all argument for life
And granted but a fresh-dug hole for Hugh.
'Twas half like murder. Yet it seemed Jules knew
Unnumbered tales accordant with the case,
Each circumstantial as to time and place
And furnished with a death's head colophon.
Vivaciously despondent, Jules ran on.
'Did he not share his judgment with the rest ?
You see, 'twas some contusion of the chest
That did the trick heart, lungs and all that,
In such a way they never could be fixed.
A bear's hug ugh ! '
And often Jamie winced
At some knife-thrust of reason that convinced
Yet left him sick with unrelinquished hope.
As one who in a darkened room might grope
For some beloved face, with shuddering
Anticipation of a clammy thing ;
20 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
So in the lad's heart sorrow fumbled round
For some old joy to lean upon, and found
The stark, cold something Jamie knew was there.
Yet, womanlike, he stroked the hoary hair
Or bathed the face; while Jules found tales to
At sundown, day-long winds are like to veer;
So, summoning a mood of relished fear,
Le Bon remembered dire alarms by night
The swoop of savage hordes, the desperate fight
Of men outnumbered : and, like him of old,
In all that made Jules shudder as he told,
His the great part a man by field and flood
Fate-tossed. Upon the gloom he limned in blood
Their situation's possibilities :
Two men against the fury of the Rees
A game in which two hundred men had failed !
He pointed out how little it availed
To run the risk for one as good as dead ;
Yet, Jules Le Bon meant every word he said,
And had a scalp to lose, if need should be.
That night through Jamie's dreaming swarmed
Gray-souled, he wakened to a dawn of gray,
GRAYBEARD AND GOLDHAIR 21
And felt that something strong had gone away,
Nor knew what thing. Some whisper of the will
Bade him rejoice that Hugh was living still ;
But Hugh, the real, seemed somehow otherwhere.
Jules, snug and snoring in his blanket there,
Was half a life the nearer. Just so, pain
Is nearer than the peace we seek in vain,
And by its very sting compells belief.
Jules woke, and with a fine restraint of grief
Saw early dissolution. 'One more night,
And then the poor old man would lose the fight
Ah, such a man !'
A day and night crept by,
And yet the stubborn fighter would not die,
But grappled with the angel. All the while,
With some conviction, but with more of guile,
Jules colonized the vacancy with Rees ;
Till Jamie felt that looseness of the knees
That comes of oozing courage. Many men
May tower for a white-hot moment, when
The wild blood surges at a sudden shock ;
But when, insistent as a ticking clock,
Blind peril haunts and whispers, fewer dare.
Dread hovered in the hushed and moony air
The long night through ; nor might a fire be lit,
Lest some far-seeing foe take note of it.
And day-long Jamie scanned the blank sky rim
22 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
For hoof-flung dust clouds ; till there woke in him
A childish anger dumb for ruth and shame
That Hugh so dallied.
But the fourth dawn came
And with it lulled the fight, as on a field
Where broken armies sleep but will not yield.
Or had one conquered ? Was it Hugh or Death ?
The old man breathed with faintly fluttering
Nor did his body shudder as before.
Jules triumphed sadly. 'It would soon be o'er;
So men grew quiet when they lost their grip
And did not care. At sundown he would slip
Into the deeper silence/
Unwitting how a furtive gladness crept
Into his heart that gained a stronger beat.
So cities, long beleaguered, take defeat
Unto themselves half traitors.
To dig a hole that might conceal a man ;
And, as his sheath knife broke the stubborn sod,
He spoke in kindly vein of Life and God
And Mutability and Rectitude.
The immemorial funerary mood
Brought tears, mute tribute to the mother-dust ;
And Jamie, seeing, felt each cutting thrust
Less like a stab into the flesh of Hugh.
GRAYBEARD AND GOLDHAIR 23
The sun crept up and down the arc of blue
And through the air a chill of evening ran ;
But, though the grave yawned, waiting for the
The man seemed scarce yet ready for the grave.
Now prompted by a coward or a knave
That lurked in him, Le Bon began to hear
Faint sounds that to the lad's less cunning ear
Were silence ; more like tremors of the ground
They were, Jules said, than any proper sound
Thus one detected horsemen miles away.
For many moments big with fate, he lay,
Ear pressed to earth; then rose and shook his
As one perplexed. "There's something wrong,"
And as at daybreak whiten winter skies,
Agape and staring with a wild surmise
The lad's face whitened at the other's word.
Jules could not quite interpret what he heard ;
A hundred horse might noise their whereabouts
In just that fashion ; yet he had his doubts.
It could be bison moving, quite as well.
But if 'twere Rees there'd be a tale to tell
That two men he might name should never hear.
He reckoned scalps that Fall were selling dear,
24 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
In keeping with the limited supply.
Men, fit to live, were not afraid to die !
Then, in that caution suits not courage ill,
Jules saddled up and cantered to the hill,
A white dam set against the twilight stream ;
And as a horseman riding in a dream
The lad beheld him ; watched him clamber up
To where the dusk, as from a brimming cup,
Ran over; saw him pause against the gloom,
Portentous, huge a brooder upon doom.
What did he look upon ?
Some moments passed ;
Then suddenly it seemed as though a blast
Of wind, keen-cutting with the whips of sleet,
Smote horse and rider. Haunched on huddled feet,
The steed shrank from the ridge, then, rearing,
And took the rubbly incline fury-heeled.
Those days and nights, like seasons creeping slow,
Had told on Jamie. Better blow on blow
Of evil hap, with doom seen clear ahead,
Than that monotonous, abrasive dread,
Blind gnawer at the soul-thews of the blind.
Thin-worn, the last heart-string that held him
GRAYBEARD AND GOLDHAIR 25
Strung taut, the final tie that kept him true
Now snapped in Jamie, as he saw the two
So goaded by some terrifying sight.
Death riding with the vanguard of the Night,
Life dwindling yonder with the rear of Day !
What choice for one whom panic swept away
From moorings in the sanity of will ?
Jules came and summed the vision of the hill
In one hoarse cry that left no word to say :
"Rees ! Saddle up ! We've got to get away !"
Small wit had Jamie left to ferret guile,
But fumblingly obeyed Le Bon ; the while
Jules knelt beside the man who could not flee :
For big hearts lack not time for charity
However thick the blows of fate may fall.
Yet, in that Jules Le Bon was practical,
He could not quite ignore a hunting knife,
A flint, a gun, a blanket gear of life
Scarce suited to the customs of the dead !
And Hugh slept soundly in his ample bed,
Star-canopied and blanketed with night,
Unwitting how Venality and Fright
Made hot the westward trail of Henry's men.
No one may say what time elapsed, or when
The slumberous shadow lifted over Hugh :
But some globose immensity of blue
Enfolded him at last, within whose light
He seemed to float, as some faint swimmer might,
A deep beneath and overhead a deep.
So one late plunged into the lethal sleep,
A spirit diver fighting for his breath,
Swoops through the many-fathomed glooms of
Emerging in a daylight strange and new.
Rousing a languid wonder, came on Hugh
The quiet, steep-arched splendor of the day.
Agrope for some dim memory, he lay
Upon his back, and watched a lucent fleece
Fade in the blue profundity of peace
As did the memory he sought in vain.
Then with a stirring of mysterious pain,
THE AWAKENING 27
Old habit of the body bade him rise;
But when he would obey, the hollow skies
Broke as a bubble punctured, and went out.
Again he woke, and with a drowsy doubt,
Remote unto his horizontal gaze
He saw the world's end kindle to a blaze
And up the smoky steep pale heralds run.
And when at length he knew it for the sun,
Dawn found the darkling reaches of 'his mind,
Where in the twilight he began to find
Strewn shards and torsos of familiar things.
As from the rubble in a place of kings
Men school the dream to build the past anew,
So out of dream and fragment builded Hugh,
And came upon the reason of his plight :
The bear's attack the shot and then the
Wherein men talked as ghosts above a grave.
Some consciousness of will the memory gave :
He would get up. The painful effort spent
Made the wide heavens billow as a tent
Wind-struck, the shaken prairie sag and roll.
Some moments with an effort at control
He swayed, half raised upon his arms, until
The dizzy cosmos righted, and was still.
28 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
Then would he stand erect and be again
The man he was : an overwhelming pain
Smote him to earth, and one unruly limb
Refused the weight and crumpled under him.
Sickened with torture he lay huddled there,
Gazing about him with a great despair
Proportioned to the might that felt the chain.
Far-flung as dawn, collusive sky and plain
Stared bleak 'denial back.
Why strive at all ?
That vacancy about him like a wall,
Yielding as light, a granite scarp to climb !
Some little waiting on the creep of time,
Abandonment to circumstance ; and then
Here flashed a sudden thought of Henry's men
Into his mind and drove the gloom away.
They would be riding westward with the day !
How strange he had forgot ! That battered leg
Or some scalp wound, had set his wits a-beg !
Was this Hugh Glass to whimper like a squaw ?
Grimly amused, he raised his head and saw
The empty distance : listened long and heard
Naught but the twitter of a lonely bird
That emphasized the hush.
Was something wrong ?
THE AWAKENING 29
'Twas not the Major's way to dally long,
And surely they had camped not far behind.
Now woke a query in his troubled mind
Where was his horse ? Again came creeping back
The circumstances of the bear's attack.
He had dismounted, thinking at the spring
To spend the night and then the grisly thing
Of course the horse had bolted ; plain enough !
But why was all the soil about so rough
As though a herd of horses had been there ?
The riddle vexed him till his vacant stare
Fell on a heap of earth beside a pit.
What did that mean ? He wormed his way to it,
The newly wakened wonder dulling pain.
No paw of beast had scooped it that was plain.
'Twas squared; indeed, 'twas like a grave, he
A grave a grave the mental echo wrought
Sick fancies ! Who had risen from the dead ?
Who, lying there, had heard above his head
The ghostly talkers deaf unto his shout ?
Now searching all the region round about,
As though the answer were a lurking thing,
He saw along the margin of the spring
An ash-heap and the litter of a camp.
Suspicion, like a little smoky lamp
30 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
That daubs the murk but cannot fathom it,
Flung blear grotesques before his groping wit.
Had Rees been there ? And he alive ? Who
And were he dead, it might be Henry's men !
How many suns had risen while he slept ?
The smoky glow flared wildly, and he crept,
The dragged limb throbbing, till at length he
The trail of many horses westward bound ;
And in one breath the groping light became
A gloom-devouring ecstasy of flame,
A dazing conflagration of belief!
Plunged deeper than the seats of hate and grief,
He gazed about for aught that might deny
Such baseness : saw the non-committal sky,
The prairie apathetic in a shroud,
The bland complacence of a vagrant cloud
World-wide connivance ! Smilingly the sun
Approved a land wherein such deeds were done;
And careless breezes, like a troop of youth,
Unawed before the presence of such truth,
Went scampering amid the tousled brush.
Then bye and bye came on him with a rush
His weakness and the consciousness of pain,
While, with the chill insistence of a rain
THE AWAKENING 31
That pelts the sodden wreck of Summer's end y
His manifest betrayal by a friend
Beat in upon him. Jamie had been there ;
And Jamie Jamie Jamie did not care !
What no man yet had witnessed, the wide sky
Looked down and saw ; a light wind idling by
Heard what no ear of mortal yet had heard :
For he whose name was like a magic word
To conjure the remote heroic mood
Of valiant deed and splendid fortitude,
Wherever two that shared a fire might be,
Gave way to grief and wept unmanfully.
Yet not as they for whom tears fall like dew
To green a frosted heart again, wept Hugh.
So thewed to strive, so engined to prevail
And make harsh fate the zany of a tale,
His own might shook and tore him.
For a span
He lay, a gray old ruin of a man
With all his years upon him like a snow.
And then at length, as from the long ago,
Remote beyond the other side of wrong,
The old love came like some remembered song
Whereof the strain is sweet, the burden sad.
A retrospective vision of the lad
Grew up in him, as in a foggy night
32 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
The witchery of semilunar light
Mysteriously quickens all the air.
Some memory of wind-blown golden hair,
The boyish laugh, the merry eyes of blue,
Wrought marvelously in the heart of Hugh,
As under snow the daemon of the Spring.
And momently it seemed a little thing
To suffer ; nor might treachery recall
The miracle of being loved at all,
The privilege of loving to the end.
And thereupon a longing for his friend
Made life once more a struggle for a prize
To look again upon the merry eyes,
To see again the wind-blown golden hair.
Aye, one should lavish very tender care
Upon the vessel of a hope so great,
Lest it be shattered, and the precious freight,
As water on the arid waste, poured out.
Yet, though he longed to live, a subtle doubt
Still turned on him the weapon of his pain :
Now, as before, collusive sky and plain
Outstared his purpose for a puny thing.
Praying to live, he crawled back to the spring,
With something in his heart like gratitude
That by good luck his gun might furnish food,
His blanket, shelter, and his flint, a fire.
THE AWAKENING 33
For, after all, what thing do men desire
To be or have, but these condition it ?
These with a purpose and a little wit,
And howsoever smitten, one might rise,
Push back the 'curtain of the curving skies,
And come upon the living dream at last.
Exhausted, by the spring he lay and cast
Dull eyes about him. What did it portend ?
Naught but the footprints of a fickle friend,
A yawning grave and ashes met his eyes !
Scarce feeling yet the shock of a surprise,
He searched about him for his flint and knife ;
Knew vaguely that his seeking was for life,
And that the place was empty where he sought.
No food, no fire, no shelter ! Dully wrought
The bleak negation in him, slowly crept
To where, despite the pain, his love had kept
A shrine for Jamie undefiled of doubt.
Then suddenly conviction, like a shout,
Aroused him. Jamie Jamie was a thief!
The very difficulty of belief
Was fuel for the simmering of rage;
That grew and grew, the more he strove to gage
The underlying motive of the deed.
Untempered youth might fail a friend in need ;
But here had wrought some devil of the will,
34 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
Some heartless thing, too cowardly to kill,
That left to Nature what it dared not do !
So bellowsed, all the kindled soul of Hugh
Became a still white hell of brooding ire,
And through his veins regenerating fire
Ran, driving out the lethargy of pain.
Now once again he scanned the yellow plain,
Conspirant with the overbending skies ;
And lo, the one was blue as Jamie's eyes,
The other of the color of his hair
Twin hues of falseness merging to a stare,
As though such guilt, thus visibly immense,
Regarded its effect with insolence !
Alas for those who fondly place above
The act of loving, what they chance to love ;
Who prize the goal more dearly than the way !
For time shall plunder them, and change betray,
And life shall find them vulnerable still.
A bitter-sweet narcotic to the will,
Hugh's love increased the peril of his plight ;
But anger broke the slumber of his might,
Quickened the heart and warmed the blood that
Defiance for the treachery of Man,
THE AWAKENING 35
Defiance for the meaning of his pain,
Defiance for the distance of the plain
That seemed to gloat, 'You can not master me.'
And for one burning moment he felt free
To rise and conquer in a wind of rage.
But as a tiger, conscious of the cage,
A-smoulder with a purpose, broods and waits,
So with the sullen patience that is hate's
Hugh taught his wrath to bide expedience.
Now cognizant of every quickened sense,
Thirst came upon him. Leaning to the spring,
He stared with fascination on a thing
That rose from giddy deeps to share the draught
A face, it was, so tortured that it laughed,
A ghastly mask that Murder well might wear;
And while as one they drank together there,
It was as though the deed he meant to do
Took shape and came to kiss the lips of Hugh,
Lest that revenge might falter. Hunger woke ;
And from the bush with leafage gray as smoke,
Wherein like flame the bullberries glinted red
(Scarce sweeter than the heart of him they fed),
And the hours of waiting crept,
A-gloom, a-glow ; and though he waked or slept,
The pondered purpose or a dream that wrought,
36 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
By night, the murder of his waking thought,
Sustained him till he felt his strength returned.
And then at length the longed-for morning burned
And beckoned down the vast way he should crawl
That waste to be surmounted as a wall,
Sky-rims and yet more sky-rims steep to climb
That simulacrum of enduring Time
The hundred empty miles 'twixt him and where
The stark Missouri ran !
Yet why not dare ?
Despite the useless leg, he could not die
One hairsbreadth farther from the earth and sky,
Or more remote from kindness.
Beneath the flare of dawn, the Ree land lay,
And through it ran the short trail to the goal.
Thereon a grim turnpikeman waited toll :
But 'twas so doomed that southering geese should
Nine times, ere yet the vengeance of the Ree
Should make their foe the haunter of a tale.
Midway to safety on the northern trail
The scoriae region of a hell burned black
Forbade the crawler. And for all his lack,
Hugh had no heart to journey with the suns :
No suppliant unto those faithless ones
Should bid for pity at the Big Horn's mouth.
The greater odds for safety in the South
Allured him ; so he felt the midday sun
Blaze down the coulee of a little run
38 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
That dwindled upward to the watershed
Whereon the feeders of the Moreau head
Scarce more than deep-carved runes of vernal
The trailing leg was like a galling chain,
And bound him to a doubt that would not pass.
Defiant clumps of thirst-embittered grass
That bit parched earth with bared and fang-like
Dwarf thickets, jealous for their stunted fruits,
Harsh-tempered by their disinheritance
These symbolized the enmity of Chance
For him who, with his fate unreconciled,
Equipped for travel as a weanling child,
Essayed the journey of a mighty man.
Like agitated oil the heat-waves ran
And made the scabrous gulch appear to shake
As some reflected landscape in a lake
Where laggard breezes move. A taunting reek
Rose from the grudging seepage of the creek,
Whereof Hugh drank and drank, and still would
And where the mottled shadow dripped as ink
From scanty thickets on the yellow glare,
The crawler faltered with no heart to dare
Again the torture of that toil, until
THE CRAWL 39
The master-thought of vengeance 'woke the will
To goad him forth. And when the sun quiesced
Amid ironic heavens in the West
The region of false friends Hugh gained a rise
Whence to the fading cincture of the skies
A purpling panorama swept away.
Scarce farther than a shout might carry, lay
The place of his betrayal. He could see
The yellow blotch of earth where treachery
Had digged his grave. O futile wrath and toil !
Tucked in beneath yon coverlet of soil,
Turned back for him, how soundly had he slept !
Fool, fool ! to struggle when he might have crept
So short a space, yet farther than the flight
Of swiftest dreaming through the longest night,
Into the quiet house of no false friend.
Alas for those who seek a journey's end
They have it ever with them like a ghost :
Nor shall they find, who deem they seek it most,
But crave the end of human ends as Hugh.
Now swoopingly the world of dream broke through
The figured wall of sense. It seemed he ran
As wind above the creeping ways of man,
And came upon the place of his desire,
Where burned, far-luring as a beacon-fire,
40 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
The face of Jamie. But the vengeful stroke
Bit air. The darkness lifted like a smoke
And it was early morning.
From where the West yet kept a pallid star
To thinner sky where dawn was wearing through,
Hugh shrank with dread, reluctant to renew
The war with that serene antagonist.
More fearsome than a smashing iron fist
Seemed that vast negativity of might ;
Until the frustrate vision of the night
Came moonwise on the gloom of his despair.
And lo, the foe was naught but yielding air,
A vacancy to fill with his intent !
So from his spacious bed he 'rose and went
Three-footed ; and the vision goaded him.
All morning southward to the bare sky rim
The rugged coulee zigzagged, mounting slow ;
And ever as it 'rose, the lean creek's flow
Dwindled and dwindled steadily, until
At last a scooped-out basin would not fill ;
And thenceforth 'twas a way of mocking dust.
But, in that Hugh still kept the driving lust
For vengeance, this new circumstance of fate
Served but to brew more venom for his hate,
And nerved him to avail the most with least.
THE CRAWL 41
Ere noon the crawler chanced upon a feast
Of bread-root sunning in a favored draw.
A sentry gopher from his stronghold saw
Some three-legged beast, bear-like, yet not a bear,
With quite misguided fury digging where
No hapless brother gopher might be found.
And while, with striped nose above his mound,
The sentinel chirped shrilly to his clan
Scare-tales of that anomaly, the man
Devoured the chance-flung manna of the plains
That some vague reminiscence of old rains
Kept succulent, despite the burning drouth.
So with new vigor Hugh assailed the South,
His pockets laden with the precious roots
Against that coming traverse, where no fruits
Of herb or vine or shrub might brave the land
Spread rooflike 'twixt the Moreau and the Grand.
The coulee deepened ; yellow walls flung high,
Sheer to the ragged strip of blinding sky,
Dazzled and sweltered in the glare of day.
Capricious draughts that woke and died away
Into the heavy drowse, were breatht as flame.
And midway down the afternoon, Hugh came
Upon a little patch of spongy ground.
His thirst became a rage. He gazed around,
42 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
Seeking a spring ; but all about was dry
As strewn bones bleaching to a desert sky ;
Nor did a clawed hole, bought with needed
Return a grateful ooze. And when at length
Hugh sucked the mud, he spat it in disgust.
It had the acrid tang of broken trust,
The sweetish, tepid taste of feigning love !
Still hopeful of a spring somewhere above,
He crawled the faster for his taunted thirst.
More damp spots, no less grudging than the first,
Occurred with growing frequence on the way,
Until amid the purple wane of day
The crawler came upon a little pool !
Clear as a friend's heart, 'twas, and seeming cool
A crystal bowl whence skyey deeps looked up.
So might a god set down his drinking cup
Charged with a distillation of haut skies.
As famished horses, thrusting to the eyes
Parched muzzles, take a long-sought water-hole,
Hugh plunged his head into the brimming bowl
As though to share the joy with every sense.
And lo, the tang of that wide insolence
Of sky and plain was acrid in the draught.'
How ripplingly the lying water laughed !
How like fine sentiment the mirrored sky
THE CRAWL 43
Won credence for a sink of alkali !
So with false friends. And yet, as may accrue
From specious love some profit of the true,
One gift of kindness had the tainted sink.
Stripped of his clothes, Hugh let his body drink
At every thirsting pore. Through trunk and
The elemental blessing solaced him ;
Nor did he rise till, vague with stellar light,
The lone gulch, buttressing an arch of night,
Was like a temple to the Holy Ghost.
As priests in slow procession with the Host,
A gusty breeze intoned now low, now loud,
And now, as to the murmur of a crowd,
Yielding the dim-torched wonder of the nave.
Aloft along the dusky architrave
The wander-tale of drifting stars evolved ;
And Hugh lay gazing till the whole resolved
Into a haze.
It seemed that Little Jim
Had come to share a merry fire with him,
And there had been no trouble 'twixt the two.
And Jamie listened eagerly while Hugh
Essayed a tangled tale of bears and men,
Bread-root and stars. But ever now and then
The shifting smoke-cloud dimmed the golden hair,
The leal blue eyes ; until with sudden flare
44 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
The flame effaced them utterly and lo,
The gulch bank-full with morning !
Loath to go,
Hugh lay beside the pool and pondered fate.
He saw his age-long pilgrimage of hate
Stretch out a fool's trail ; and it made him
For still amid the nightly vision's fringe
His dull wit strayed, companioned with regret.
But when the sun, a tilted cauldron set
Upon the gulch rim, poured a blaze of day,
He rose and bathed again, and went his way,
Sustaining wrath returning with the toil.
At noon the gulch walls, hewn in lighter soil,
Fell back ; and coulees dense with shrub and vine
Climbed zigzag to the sharp horizon line,
Whence one might choose the pilotage of crows.
He labored upward through the noonday doze.
Of breathless shade, where plums were turning
In tangled bowers, and grapevines overhead
Purpled with fruit to taunt the crawler's thirst.
With little effort Hugh attained the first ;
The latter bargained sharply ere they sold
Their luscious clusters for the hoarded gold
Of strength that had so very much to buy.
THE CRAWL 45
Now, having feasted, it was sweet to lie
Beneath a sun-proof canopy ; and sleep
Hugh awakened to some deep
Star-snuffing well of night. Awhile he lay
And wondered what had happened to the day
And where he was and what were best to do.
But when, fog-like, the drowse dispersed, he knew
How from the rim above the plain stretched far
To where the evening and the morning are,
And that 'twere better he should crawl by night,
Sleep out the glare. With groping hands for
Skyward along the broken steep he crawled,
And saw at length, immense and purple-walled
Or sensed the dusky mystery of plain.
Gazing aloft, he found the capsized Wain
In mid-plunge down the polar steep. Thereto
He set his back ; and far ahead there grew,
As some pale blossom from a darkling root,
The star-blanched summit of a lonely butte,
And thitherward he dragged his heavy limb.
It seemed naught moved. Time hovered over
An instant of incipient endeavor.
'Twas ever thus, and should be thus forever
46 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
This groping for the same armful of space,
An insubstantial essence of one place,
Extentless on a weird frontier of sleep.
Sheer deep upon unfathomable deep
The flood of dusk bore down without a sound,
As ocean on the spirits of the drowned
Awakened headlong leagues beneath the light.
So lapsed the drowsy aeon of the night
A strangely tensile moment in a trance.
And then, as quickened to somnambulance,
The heavens, imperceptibly in motion,
Were altered as the upward deeps of ocean
Diluted with a seepage of the moon.
The butte-top, late a gossamer balloon
In mid-air tethered hovering, grew down
And rooted in a blear expanse of brown,
That, lifting slowly with the ebb of night,
Took on the harsh solidity of light
And day was on the prairie like a flame.
Scarce had he munched the hoarded roots, when
A vertigo of slumber. Snatchy dreams
Of sick pools, inaccessible cool streams,
Lured on through giddy vacancies of heat
In swooping flights ; now hills of roasting meat
THE CRAWL 47
Made savory the oven of the world,
Yet kept remote peripheries and whirled
About a burning center that was Hugh.
Then all were gone, save one, and it turned blue
And was a heap of cool and luscious fruit,
Until at length he knew it for the butte
Now mantled with a weaving of the gloam.
It was the hour when cattle straggle home.
Across the clearing in a hush of sleep
They saunter, lowing; loiter belly-deep
Amid the lush grass by the meadow stream.
How like the sound of water in a dream
The intermittent tinkle of yon bell.
A windlass creaks contentment from a well,
And cool deeps gurgle as the bucket sinks.
Now blowing at the trough the plow-team drinks ;
The shaken harness rattles. Sleepy quails
Call far. The warm milk hisses in the pails
There in the dusky barn-lot. Crickets cry.
The meadow twinkles with the glowing fly.
One hears the horses munching at their oats.
The green grows black. A veil of slumber floats
Across the haunts of home-enamored men.
Some freak of memory brought back again
The boyhood world of sight and scent and sound :
It perished, and the prairie ringed him round,
48 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
Blank as the face of fate. In listless mood
Hugh set his face against the solitude
And met the night. The new moon, low and
A frail cup tilted, nor the high-swung star,
It seemed, might glint on any stream or spring
Or touch with silver any toothsome thing.
The kiote voiced the universal lack.
As from a nether fire, the plain gave back
The swelter of the noon-glare to the gloom.
In the hot hush Hugh heard his temples boom.
Thirst tortured. Motion was a languid pain.
Why seek some further nowhere on the plain ?
Here might the kiotes feast as well as there.
So spoke some loose-lipped spirit of despair;
And still Hugh moved, volitionless a weight
Submissive to that now unconscious hate,
As darkling water to the hidden moon.
Now when the night wore on in middle swoon,
The crawler, roused from stupor, was aware
Of some strange alteration in the air.
To breathe became an act of conscious will.
The starry waste was ominously still.
The far-ofF kiote's yelp came sharp and clear
As through a tunnel in the atmosphere
A ponderable, resonating mass.
THE CRAWL 49
The limp leg dragging on the sun-dried grass
Produced a sound unnaturally loud.
Crouched, panting, Hugh looked up but saw no
An oily film seemed spread upon the sky
Now dully staring as the open eye
Of one in fever. Gasping, choked with thirst,
A childish rage assailed Hugh, and he cursed :
'Twas like a broken spirit's outcry, tossed
Upon hell's burlesque sabbath for the lost,
And briefly space seemed crowded with the voice.
To wait and die, to move and die what
Hugh chose not, yet he crawled; though more
He felt the futile strife was nearly o'er.
And as he went, a muffled rumbling grew,
More felt than heard ; for long it puzzled Hugh.
Sometiow 'twas coextensive with his thirst,
Yet boundless ; swollen blood-veins ere they burst
Might give such warning, so he thought. And
The drone seemed heaping up a phonic hill
That towered in a listening profound.
Then suddenly a mountain peak of sound
50 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
Came toppling to a heaven-jolting fall !
The prairie shuddered, and a raucous drawl
Ran far and perished in the outer deep.
As one too roughly shaken out of sleep,
Hugh stared bewildered. Still the face of night
Remained the same, save where upon his right
The moon had vanished 'neath the prairie rim.
Then suddenly the meaning came to him.
He turned and saw athwart the northwest sky,
Like some black eyelid shutting on an eye,
A coming night to which the night was day!
Star-hungry, ranged in regular array,
The lifting mass assailed the Dragon's lair,
Submerged the region of the hounded Bear,
Out-topped the tall Ox-Driver and the Pole.
And all the while there came a low-toned roll,
Less sound in air than tremor in the earth,
From where, like flame upon a windy hearth,
Deep in the further murk sheet-lightning flared.
And still the southern arc of heaven stared,
A half-shut eye, near blind with fever rheum ;
And still the plain lay tranquil as a tomb
Wherein the dead reck not a menaced world.
What turmoil now ? Lo, ragged columns hurled
Pell-mell up stellar slopes ! Swift blue fires leap
THE CRAWL 51
Above the wild assailants of the steep !
Along the solid rear a dull boom runs !
So light horse squadrons charge beneath the guns.
Now once again the night is deathly still.
What ghastly peace upon the zenith hill,
No longer starry ? Not a sound is heard.
So poised the hush, it seems a whispered word
Might loose all noises in an avalanche.
Only the black mass moves, and far glooms blanch
With fitful flashes. The capricious flare
Reveals the butte-top tall and lonely there
Like some gray prophet contemplating doom.
But hark ! What spirits whisper in the gloom ?
What sibilation of conspiracies
Ruffles the hush or murmuring of trees,
Ghosts of the ancient forest or old rain,
In some hallucination of the plain,
A frustrate phantom mourning ? All around,
That e'er evolving, ne'er resolving sound
Gropes in the stifling hollow of the night.
Then once twice thrice a blade of
Ripped up the heavens, and the deluge came
A burst of wind and water, noise and flame
That hurled the watcher flat upon the ground.
52 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
A moment past Hugh famished; now, half
He gasped for breath amid the hurtling drench.
So might a testy god, long sought to quench
A puny thirst, pour wassail, hurling after
The crashing bowl with wild sardonic laughter
To see man wrestle with his answered prayer !
Prone to the roaring flaw and ceaseless flare,
The man drank deeply with the drinking grass;
Until it seemed the storm would never pass
But ravin down the painted murk for aye.
When had what dreamer seen a glaring day
And leagues of prairie pantingly aquiver ?
Flame, flood, wind, noise and darkness were a
Tearing a cosmic channel to no sea.
The tortured night wore on ; then suddenly
Peace fell. Remotely the retreating Wrath
Trailed dull, reluctant thunders in its path,
And up along a broken stair of cloud
The Dawn came creeping whitely. Like a
Gray vapors clung along the sodden plain.
Up rose the sun to wipe the final stain
THE CRAWL 53
Of fury from the sky and drink the mist.
Against a flawless arch of amethyst
The butte soared, like a soul serene and white
Because of the katharsis of the night.
All day Hugh fought with sleep and struggled on
Southeastward ; for the heavy heat was gone
Despite the naked sun. The blank Northwest
Breathed coolly ; and the crawler thought it best
To move while yet each little break and hollow
And shallow basin of the bison-wallow
Begrudged the earth and air its dwindling store.
But now that thirst was conquered, more and
He felt the gnaw of hunger like a rage.
And once, from dozing in a clump of sage,
A lone jackrabbit bounded. As a flame
Hope flared in Hugh, until the memory came
Of him who robbed a sleeping friend and fled.
Then hate and hunger merged ; the man saw red,
And momently the hare and Little Jim
Were one blurred mark for murder unto him
Elusive, taunting, sweet to clutch and tear.
The rabbit paused to scan the crippled bear
That ground its teeth as though it chewed a
But when, in witless rage, Hugh drew his boot
54 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
And hurled it with a curse, the hare loped off,
Its critic ears turned back, as though to scoff
At silly brutes that threw their legs away.
Night like a shadow on enduring day
Swooped by. The dream of crawling and the
Were phases of one everlasting fact :
Hugh woke, and he was doing what he dreamed.
The butte, outstripped at eventide, now seemed
Intent to follow. Ever now and then
The crawler paused to calculate again
What dear-bought yawn of distance dwarfed the
Close in the rear it soared, a Titan still,
Whose hand-in-pocket saunter kept the pace.
Distinct along the southern rim of space
A low ridge lay, the crest of the divide.
What rest and plenty on the other side !
Through what lush valleys ran what crystal
And there in virgin meadows wayside nooks
With leaf and purple cluster dulled the light !
All day it seemed that distant Pisgah Height
Retreated, and the tall butte dogged the rear.
At eve a striped gopher chirping near
Gave Hugh an inspiration. Now, at least,
No thieving friend should rob him of a feast.
His great idea stirred him as a shout.
Off came a boot, a sock was ravelled out.
The coarse yarn, fashioned to a running snare,
He placed about the gopher's hole with care,
And then withdrew to hold the yarn and wait.
The nightbound moments, ponderous with fate,
Crept slowly by. The battered gray face leered
In expectation. Down the grizzled beard
Ran slaver from anticipating jaws.
Evolving twilight hovered to a pause.
The light wind fell. Again and yet again
The man devoured his fancied prey : and then
Within the noose a timid snout was thrust.
His hand unsteadied with the hunger lust,
Hugh jerked the yarn. It broke.
Down swooped the night,
A shadow of despair. Bleak height on height,
It seemed, a sheer abyss enclosed him round.
Clutching a strand of yarn, he heard the sound
Of some infernal turmoil under him.
Grimly he strove to reach the ragged rim
That snared a star, until the skyey space
Was darkened with a roof of Jamie's face,
56 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
And then the yarn was broken, and he fell.
A-tumble like a stricken bat, his yell
Woke hordes of laughers down the giddy yawn
Of that black pit and suddenly 'twas dawn.
Dream-dawn, dream-noon, dream-twilight ! Yet,
By one stern dream more clamorous than the
Hugh headed for a gap that notched the hills,
Wherethrough alluring murmur of cool rills,
A haunting smell of verdure seemed to creep.
By fits the wild adventure of his sleep
Became the cause of all his waking care,
And he complained unto the empty air
How Jamie broke the yarn.
The sun and breeze
Had drunk all shallow basins to the lees,
But now and then some gully, choked with mud,
Retained a turbid relict of the flood.
Dream-dawn, dream-noon, dream-night ! And
By that one dream more clamorous than the rest,
Hugh struggled for the crest of the divide.
And when at length he saw the other side,
'Twas but a rumpled waste of yellow hills !
THE CRAWL 57
The deep-sunk, wiser self had known the rills
And nooks to be the facture of a whim ;
Yet had the pleasant lie befriended him,
And now the brutal fact had come to stare.
Succumbing to a langorous despair,
He mourned his fate with childish uncontrol
And nursed that deadly adder of the soul,
Self-pity. Let the crows swoop down and feed,
Aye, batten on a thing that died of need,
A poor old wretch betrayed of God and Man !
So peevishly his broken musing ran,
Till, glutted with the luxury of woe,
He turned to see the butte, that he might know
How little all his striving could avail
Against ill-luck. And lo, a finger-nail,
At arm-length held, could blot it out of space !
A goading purpose and a creeping pace
Had dwarfed the Titan in a haze of blue !
And suddenly new power came to Hugh
With gazing on his masterpiece of will.
So fare the wise on Pisgah.
Down the hill,
Unto the higher vision consecrate,
Now sallied forth the new triumvirate
A Weariness, a Hunger and a Glory
58 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
Against tyrannic Chance. As in a story
Some higher Hugh observed the baser part.
So sits the artist throned above his art,
Nor recks the travail so the end be fair.
It seemed the wrinkled hills pressed in to stare,
The arch of heaven was an eye a-gaze.
And as Hugh went, he fashioned many a phrase
For use when, by some friendly ember-light,
His tale of things endured should speed the night
And all this gloom grow golden in the sharing.
So wrought the old evangel of high daring,
The duty and the beauty of endeavor,
The privilege of going on forever,
A victor in the moment.
Ah, but when
The night slipped by and morning came again,
The sky and hill were only sky and hill
And crawling but an agony of will.
So once again the old triumvirate,
A buzzard Hunger and a viper Hate
Together with the baser part of Hugh,
That day the wild geese flew.
Vague in a gray profundity of sky ;
And on into the night their muffled cry
Haunted the moonlight like a 'far farewell.
It made Hugh homesick, though he could not tell
THE CRAWL 59
For what he yearned; and in his fitful sleeping
The cry became the sound of Jamie weeping,
Blear, chilly, through a fog that drove as smoke
Before the booming Northwest. Sweet and sad
Came creeping back old visions of the lad
Some trick of speech, some merry little lilt,
The brooding blue of eyes too clear for guilt,
The wind-blown golden hair. Hate slept that
And half of Hugh was half a life away,
A wandering spirit wistful of the past ;
And half went drifting with the autumn blast
That mourned among the melancholy hills ;
For something of the lethargy that kills
Came creeping close upon the ebb of hate.
Only the raw wind, like the lash of Fate,
Could have availed to move him any more.
At last the buzzard beak no longer tore
His vitals, and he ceased to think of food.
The fighter slumbered, and a maudlin mood
Foretold the dissolution of the man.
He sobbed, and down his beard the big tears ran.
And now the scene is changed ; the bleak wind's
Becomes a flight of bullets snarling by
60 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
From where on yonder summit skulk the Rees.
Against the sky, in silhouette, he sees
The headstrong Jamie in the leaden rain.
And now serenely beautiful and slain
The dear lad lies within a gusty tent.
Thus vexed with doleful whims the crawler went
Adrift before the wind, nor saw the trail ;
Till close on night he knew a rugged vale
Had closed about him ; and a hush was there,
Though still a moaning in the upper air
Told how the gray-winged gale blew out the day.
Beneath a clump of brush he swooned away
Into an icy void ; and waking numb,
It seemed the still white dawn of death had come
On this, some cradle-valley of the soul.
He saw a dim, enchanted hollow roll
Beneath him, and the brush thereof was fleece;
And, like the body of the perfect peace
That thralled the whole, abode the break of day.
It seemed no wind had ever come that way,
Nor sound dwelt there, nor echo found the place.
And Hugh lay lapped in wonderment a space,
Vexed with a snarl whereof the ends were lost,
Till, shivering, he wondered if a frost
Had fallen with the dying of the blast.
So, vaguely troubled, listlessly he cast
THE CRAWL 61
A gaze about him : lo, above his head
The gray-green curtain of his chilly bed
Was broidered thick with plums ! Or so it seemed,
For he was half persuaded that he dreamed ;
And with a steady stare he strove to keep
That treasure for the other side of sleep.
Returning hunger bade him rise; in vain
He struggled with a fine-spun mesh of pain
That trammelled him, until a yellow stream
Of day flowed down the white vale of a dream
And left it disenchanted in the glare.
Then, warmed and soothed, Hugh rose and
And thought once more of reaching the Moreau.
To southward with a painful pace and slow
He went stiff-jointed ; and a gnawing ache
In that hip-wound he had for Jamie's sake
Oft made him groan nor wrought a tender
The rankling weapon of ingratitude
Was turned again with every puckering twinge.
Far down the vale a narrow winding fringe
Of wilted green betokened how a spring
There sent a little rill meandering ;
62 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
And Hugh was greatly heartened, for he knew
What fruits and herbs might flourish in the
And thirst, henceforth, should torture not again.
So day on day, despite the crawler's pain,
All in the windless, golden autumn weather,
These two, as comrades, struggled south to
The homeless graybeard and the homing rill :
And one was sullen with the lust to kill,
And one went crooning of the moon-wooed
For each the many-fathomed peace at last,
But oh the boon of singing on the way !
So came these in the golden fall of day
Unto a sudden turn in the ravine,
Wherefrom Hugh saw a flat of cluttered green
Beneath the further bluffs of the Moreau.
With sinking heart he paused and gazed below
Upon the goal of so much toil and pain.
Yon green had seemed a paradise to gain
The while he thirsted where the lonely butte
Looked far and saw no toothsome herb or fruit
In all that yellow barren dim with heat.
But now the wasting body cried for meat,
THE CRAWL 63
And sickness was upon him. Game should pass,
Nor deign to fear the mighty hunter Glass,
But curiously sniffing, pause to stare.
Now while thus musing, Hugh became aware
Of some low murmur, phasic and profound,
Scarce risen o'er the border line of sound.
It might have been the coursing of his blood,
Or thunder heard remotely, or a flood
Flung down a wooded valley far away.
Yet that had been no weather-breeding day;
'Twould frost that night; amid the thirsty land
All streams ran thin ; and when he pressed a
On either ear, the world seemed very still.
The deep-worn channel of the little rill
Here fell away to eastward, rising, rough
With old rain-furrows, to a lofty bluff
That faced the river with a yellow wall.
Thereto, perplexed, Hugh set about to crawl,
Nor reached the summit till the sun was low.
Far-spread, shade-dimpled in the level glow,
The still land told not whence the murmur grew;
But where the green strip melted into blue
Far down the winding valley of the stream,
Hugh saw what seemed the tempest of a dream
64 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
At mimic havoc in the timber-glooms.
As from the sweeping of gigantic brooms,
A dust cloud deepened down the dwindling river ;
Upon the distant tree-tops ran a shiver
And huddled thickets writhed as in a gale.
On creeps the windless tempest up the vale,
The while the murmur deepens to a roar,
As with the wider yawning of a door.
And now the agitated green gloom gapes
To belch a flood of countless dusky shapes
That mill and wrangle in a turbid flow
Migrating myriads of the buffalo
Bound for the winter pastures of the Platte !
Exhausted, faint with need of meat, Hugh sat
And watched the mounting of the living flood.
Down came the night, and like a blot of blood
The lopped moon weltered in the dust-bleared
Sleep came and gave a Barmecidal feast.
About a merry flame were simmering
Sweet haunches of the calving of the Spring,
And tender tongues that never tasted snow,
And marrow bones that yielded to a blow
Such treasure ! Hugh awoke with gnashing teeth,
And heard the mooing drone of cows beneath,
THE CRAWL 65
The roll of hoofs, the challenge of the bull.
So sounds a freshet when the banks are full
And bursting brush-jams bellow to the croon
Of water through green leaves. The ragged
Now drenched the valley in an eerie rain :
Below, the semblance of a hurricane;
Above, the perfect calm of brooding frost,
Through which the wolves in doleful tenson
From hill to hill the ancient hunger-song.
In broken sleep Hugh rolled the chill night long,
Half conscious of the flowing flesh below.
And now he trailed a bison in the snow
That deepened till he could not lift his feet.
Again, he battled for a chunk of meat
With some gray beast that fought with icy
And when he woke, the wolves no longer sang ;
White dawn athwart a white world smote the
And thunder rolled along the valley still.
Morn, wiping up the frost as with a sponge,
Day on the steep and down the nightward plunge,
And Twilight saw the myriads moving on.
Dust to the westward where the van had gone,
66 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
And dust and muffled thunder in the east !
Hugh starved while gazing on a Titan feast.
The tons of beef, that eddied there and swirled,
Had stilled the crying hungers of the world,
Yet not one little morsel was for him.
The red sun, pausing on the dusty rim,
Induced a panic aspect of his plight :
The herd would pass and vanish in the night
And be another dream to cling and flout.
Now scanning all the summit round about,
Amid the rubble of the ancient drift
He saw a bowlder. 'Twas too big to lift,
Yet he might roll it. Painfully and slow
He worked it to the edge, then let it go
And breathlessly expectant watched it fall.
It hurtled down the leaning yellow wall,
And bounding from a brushy ledge's brow,
It barely grazed the buttocks of a cow
And made a moment's eddy where it struck.
In peevish wrath Hugh cursed his evil luck,
And seizing rubble, gave his fury vent
By pelting bison till his strength was spent :
So might a child assail the crowding sea !
Then, sick at heart and musing bitterly,
He shambled down the steep way to the creek,
And having stayed the tearing buzzard beak
THE CRAWL 67
With breadroot and the waters of the rill,
Slept till the white of morning o'er the hill
Was like a whisper groping in a hush.
The stream's low trill seemed loud. The tumbled
And rumpled tree-tops in the flat below,
Upon a fog that clung like spectral snow,
Lay motionless ; nor any sound was there.
No frost had fallen, but the crystal air
Smacked of the autumn, and a heavy dew
Lay hoar upon the grass. There came on Hugh
A picture, vivid in the moment's thrill,
Of martialed corn-shocks marching up a' hill
And spiked fields dotted with the pumpkin's
It vanished ; and, a-shiver with the cold,
He brooded on the mockeries of Chance,
The shrewd malignity of Circumstance
That either gave too little or too much.
Yet, with the fragment of a hope for crutch,
His spirit rallied, and he rose to go,
Though each stiff joint resisted as a foe
And that old hip-wound battled with his will.
So down along the channel of the rill
Unto the vale below he fought his way.
The frore fog, rifting in the risen day,
68 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
Revealed the havoc of the living flood
The river shallows beaten into mud,
The slender saplings shattered in the crush,
All lower leafage stripped, the tousled brush
Despoiled of fruitage, winter-thin, aghast.
And where the avalanche of hoofs had passed
It seemed nor herb nor grass had ever been.
And this the hard-won paradise, wherein
A food-devouring plethora of food
Had come to make a starving solitude!
Yet hope and courage mounted with the sun.
Surely, rfugh thought, some ill-begotten one
Of all that striving mass had lost the strife
And perished in the headlong stream of life
A feast to fill the bellies of the strong,
That still the weak might perish. All day long
He struggled down the stricken vale, nor saw
What thing he sought. But when the twilight
Was creeping in, beyond a bend arose
A din as though the kiotes and the crows
Fought there with shrill and raucous battle cries.
Small need had Hugh to ponder and surmise
What guerdon beak and fang contended for.
Within himself the oldest cause of war
THE CRAWL 69
Brought forth upon the instant fang and beak.
He too would fight ! Nor had he far to seek
Amid the driftwood strewn about the sand
For weapons suited to a brawny hand
With such a purpose. Armed with club and
He forged ahead into the battle zone,
And from a screening thicket spied his foes.
He saw a bison carcass black with crows,
And over it a welter of black wings,
And round about, a press of tawny rings
That, like a muddy current churned to foam
Upon a snag, flashed whitely in the gloam
With naked teeth; while close about the prize
Red beaks and muzzles bloody to the eyes
Betrayed how worth a struggle was the feast.
Then came on Hugh the fury of the beast
To eat or to be eaten ! Better so
To die contending with a living foe,
Than fight the yielding distance and the lack.
Masked by the brush he opened the attack,
And ever where a stone or club fell true,
About the stricken one an uproar grew
And brute tore brute, forgetful of the prey,
Until the whole pack tumbled in the fray
70 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
With bleeding flanks and lacerated throats.
Then, as the leader of a host who notes
The cannon-wrought confusion of the foe,
Hugh seized the moment for a daring blow.
The wolfs a coward, who, in goodly packs,
May counterfeit the courage that he lacks
And with a craven's fury crush the bold.
But when the disunited mass that rolled
In suicidal strife, became aware
How some great beast that shambled like a bear
Bore down with roaring challenge, fell a hush
Upon the pack, some slinking to the brush
With tails a-droop ; while some that whined in pain
Writhed off on reddened trails. With bristled
Before the flying stones a bolder few
Snarled menace at the foe as they withdrew
To fill the outer dusk with clamorings.
Aloft upon a moaning wind of wings
The crows with harsh, vituperative cries
Now saw a gray wolf of prodigious size
Devouring with the frenzy of the starved.
Thus fell to Hugh a bison killed and carved ;
And so Fate's whims mysteriously trend
Woe in the silken meshes of the friend,
Weal in the might and menace of the foe.
THE CRAWL 71
But with the fading of the afterglow
The routed wolves found courage to return :
Amid the brush Hugh saw their eye-balls burn ;
And well he knew how futile stick and stone
Should prove by night to keep them from their
Better is less with safety, than enough
With ruin. He retreated to a bluff,
And scarce had reached it when the pack swooped
Upon the carcass.
All night long, the din
Of wrangling wolves assailed the starry air,
While high above them in a brushy lair
Hugh dreamed of gnawing at the bloody feast.
Along about the blanching of the east,
When sleep is weirdest and a moment's flight,
Remembered coextensive with the night,
May teem with hapful years ; as light in smoke,
Upon the jumble of Hugh's dreaming broke
A buzz of human voices. Once again
He rode the westward trail with Henry's men
Hoof-smitten leagues consuming in a dust.
And now the nightmare of that broken trust
Was on him, and he lay beside the spring,
A corpse, yet heard the muffled parleying .
72 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
Above him of the looters of the dead :
But when he might have riddled what they said,
The babble flattened to a blur of gray
And lo, upon a bleak frontier of day,
The spent moon staring down ! A little space
Hugh scrutinized the featureless white face,
As though 'twould speak. But when again the
Grew up, and seemed to come from under ground,
He cast the drowse, and peering down the slope,
Beheld what set at grapple fear and hope
Three Indian horsemen riding at a jog !
Their ponies, wading belly-deep in fog,
That clung along the valley, seemed to swim,
And through a thinner vapor moving dim,
The men were ghost-like.
Could they be the Sioux ?
Almost the wish became belief in Hugh.
Or were they Rees ? As readily the doubt
Withheld him from the hazard of a shout.
And while he followed them with baffled gaze,
Grown large and vague, dissolving in the haze,
They vanished westward.
Knowing well the wont
Of Indians moving on the bison-hunt,
Forthwith Hugh guessed the early riders were
The outflung feelers of a tribe a-stir
THE CRAWL 73
Like some huge cat gone mousing. So he lay
Concealed, impatient with the sleepy day
That dawdled in the dawning. Would it bring
Good luck or ill ? , His eager questioning,
As crawling fog, took on a golden hue
From sunrise. He was waiting for the Sioux,
Their parfleche panniers fat with sun-dried
And wasna ! From the mint of evil days
He would coin tales and be no begging guest
About the tribal feast-fires burning west,
But kinsman of the blood of daring men.
And when the crawler stood erect again
O Friend-Betrayer at the Big Horn's mouth,
Beware of someone riding from the South
To do the deed that he had lived to do !
Now when the sun stood hour-high in the blue,
From where a cloud of startled blackbirds rose
Down stream, a panic tumult broke the doze
Of windless morning. What unwelcome news
Embroiled the parliament of feathered shrews ?
A boiling cloud against the sun they lower,
Flackering strepent ; now a sooty shower,
Big-flaked, squall-driven westward, down they
To set a clump of cottonwoods a-sputter
74 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
With cold black fire ! And once again, some
Of sight or sound flings panic in the flock
Gray boughs exploding in a ruck of birds !
What augury in orniscopic words
Did yon swart sibyls on the morning scrawl ?
Now broke abruptly through the clacking
A camp-dog's barking and a pony's neigh ;
Whereat a running nicker fled away,
Attenuating to a rearward hush ;
And lo ! in hailing distance 'round the brush
That fringed a jutting blufFs base like a beard
Upon a stubborn chin out-thrust, appeared
A band of mounted warriors ! In their van
Aloof and lonely rode a gnarled old man
Upon a piebald stallion. Stooped was he
Beneath his heavy years, yet haughtily
He wore them like the purple of a king.
Keen for a goal, as from the driving string
A barbed and feathered arrow truly sped,
His face was like a flinty arrow-head,
And brooded westward in a steady stare.
There was a sift of winter in his hair,
The bleakness of brown winter in his look.
THE CRAWL 75
Hugh saw, and huddled closer in his nook.
Fled the bright dreams of safety, feast and rest
Before that keen, cold brooder on the West,
As gaudy leaves before the blizzard flee.
Twas Elk Tongue, fighting chieftain of the Ree,
With all his people at his pony's tail
Full two-score lodges emptied on the trail
Of hunger !
On they came in ravelled rank,
And many a haggard eye and hollow flank
Made plain how close and pitilessly pressed
The enemy that drove them to the West
Such foeman as no warrior ever slew.
A tale of cornfields plundered by the Sioux
Their sagging panniers told. Yet rich enough
They seemed to him who watched them from the
Yea, pampered nigh the limit of desire !
No friend had filched from them the boon of
And hurled them shivering back upon the beast.
Erect they went, full-armed to strive, at least;
And nightly in a cozy ember-glow
Hope fed them with a dream of buffalo
Soon to be overtaken. After that,
Home with their Pawnee cousins on the Platte,
Much meat and merry-making till the Spring.
76 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
On dragged the rabble like a fraying string
Too tautly drawn. The rich-in-ponies rode,
For much is light and little is a load
Among all heathen with no Christ to save!
Gray seekers for the yet begrudging grave,
Bent with the hoeing of forgotten maize,
Wood-hewers, water-bearers all their days,
Toiled 'neath the life-long hoarding of their packs.
And nursing squaws, their babies at their backs
Whining because the milk they got was thinned
In dugs of famine, strove as with a wind.
Invincibly equipped with their first bows
The striplings strutted, knowing, as youth knows,
How fair life is beyond the beckoning blue.
Cold-eyed the grandsires plodded, for they knew,
As frosted heads may know, how all trails merge
In what lone land. Raw maidens on the verge
Of some half-guessed-at mystery of life,
In wistful emulation of the wife
Stooped to the fancied burden of the race;
Nor read upon the withered granddam's face
The scrawled tale of that burden and its woe.
Slant to the sagging poles of the travaux,
Numb to the squaw's harsh railing and the goad,
The lean cayuses toiled. And children rode
A-top the household plunder, wonder-eyed
To see a world flow by on either side,
THE CRAWL 77
From blue air sprung to vanish in blue air,
A river of enchantments.
Here and there
The camp-curs loped upon a vexing quest
Where countless hoofs had left a palimpsest,
A taunting snarl of broken scents. And now
They sniff the clean bones of the bison cow,
Howl to the skies; and now with manes a-rough
They nose the man-smell leading to the bluff;
Pause puzzled at the base and sweep the height
With questioning yelps. Aloft, crouched low in
Already Hugh can hear the braves' guffaws
At their scorned foeman yielded to the squaws'
Inverted mercy and a slow-won grave.
Since Earth's first mother scolded from a cave
And that dear riddle of her love began,
No man has wrought a weapon against man
To match the deadly venom brewed above
The lean, blue, blinding heart-fires of her love.
Well might the hunted hunter shrink aghast !
But thrice three seasons yet should swell the past,
So was it writ, ere Fate's keen harriers
Should run Hugh Glass to earth.
The hungry curs
Took up again the tangled scent of food.
Still flowed the rabble through the solitude
78 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
A thinning stream now of the halt, the weak
And all who had not very far to seek
For that weird pass whereto the fleet are slow,
And out of it keen winds and numbing blow,
Shrill with the fleeing voices of the dead.
Slowly the scattered stragglers, making head
Against their weariness as up a steep,
Fled westward ; and the morning lay asleep
Upon the valley fallen wondrous still.
Hugh kept his nook, nor ventured forth, until
The high day toppled to the blue descent,
When thirst became a master, and he went
With painful scrambling down the broken scarp,
Lured by the stream, that like a smitten harp
Rippled a muted music to the sun.
Scarce had he crossed the open flat, and won
The half-way fringe of willows, when he saw,
Slow plodding up the trail, a tottering squaw
Whose years made big the little pack she bore.
Crouched in the brush Hugh watched her. More
The little burden tempted him. Why not ?
A thin cry throttled in that lonely spot
Could bring no succor. None should ever know,
Save him, the feasted kiote and the crow,
THE CRAWL 79
Why one poor crone found not the midnight fire.
Nor would the vanguard, quick with young de
Devouring distance westward like a flame,
Regret this ash dropped rearward.
On she came,
Slow-footed, staring blankly on the sand
So close now that it needed but a hand
Out-thrust to overthrow her;' aye, to win
That priceless spoil, a little tent of skin,
A flint and steel, a kettle and a knife !
What did the dying with the means of life,
That thus the fit-to-live should suffer lack ?
Poised for the lunge, what whimsy held him
Why did he gaze upon the passing prize,
Nor seize it ? Did some gust of ghostly cries
Awaken round her whisperings of Eld,
Wraith-voices of the babies she had held
To plead for pity on her graveward days ?
Far down a moment's cleavage in the haze
Of backward years Hugh saw her now nor saw
The little burden and the feeble squaw,
But someone sitting haloed like a saint
Beside a hearth long cold. The dream grew
8o SONG OF HUGH GLASS
And when he looked again, the crone was gone
Beyond a clump of willow.
He reached the river. Leaning to a pool
Calm in its cup of sand, he saw a fool !
A wild, wry mask of mirth, a-grin, yet grim,
Rose there to claim identity with him
And ridicule his folly. Pity ? Faugh !
Who pitied this, that it should spare a squaw
Spent in the spawning of a scorpion brood ?
He drank and hastened down the solitude,
Fleeing that thing which fleered him, and was
And as he went his self-accusing grew
And with it, anger; till it came to seem
That somehow some sly Jamie of a dream
Had plundered him again ; and he was strong
With lust of vengeance and the sting of wrong,
So that he travelled faster than for days.
Now when the eve in many-shaded grays
Wove the day's shroud, and through the lower
Lean fog-arms groped with chilling spirit hands,
Hugh paused perplexed. Elusive, haunting, dim,
As though some memory that stirred in him,
THE CRAWL 81
Invasive of the real, outgrew the dream,
There came upon the breeze that stole up stream
A whiff of woodsmoke.
'Twixt a beat and beat
Of Hugh's deluded heart, it seemed the sweet
Allure of home. A brief way, and one came
Upon the clearing where the sumach flame
Ran round the forest-fringe; and just beyond
One saw the slough grass nodding in the pond
Unto the sleepy troll the bullfrogs sung.
And then one saw the place where one was
The log-house sitting on a stumpy rise.
Hearth-lit within, its windows were as eyes
That love much and are faded with old tears.
It seemed regretful of a life's arrears,
Yet patient, with a self-denying poise,
Like some old mother for her bearded boys
Waiting sweet-hearted and a little sad.
So briefly dreamed a recrudescent lad
Beneath gray hairs, and fled.
Through chill and damp
Still groped the odor, hinting at a camp,
A two-tongued herald wooing hope and fear.
Was hospitality or danger near ?
A Sioux war-party hot upon the trail,
Or laggard Rees ? Hugh crawled across the vale,
82 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
Toiled up along a zigzag gully's bed
And reached a bluff's top. In a smudge of red
The West burned low. Hill summits, yet alight,
And pools of gloom anticipating night
Mottled the landscape to the dull blue rim.
What freak of fancy had imposed on him ?
Could one smell home-smoke fifty years away ?
He saw no fire; no pluming spire of gray
Rose in the dimming air to woo or warn.
He lay upon the bare height, fagged, forlorn,
And old times came upon him with the creep
Of subtle drugs that put the will to sleep
And wreak doom to the soothing of a dream.
So listlessly he scanned the sombrous stream,
Scarce seeing what he scanned. The dark in
A chill wind wakened from the frowning east
And soughed along the vale.
Then with a start
He saw what broke the torpor of his heart
And set the wild blood free. From where he lay
An easy point-blank rifle-shot away,
Appeared a mystic germinating spark
That in some secret garden of the dark
Upreared a frail, blue, nodding stem, whereon
A ruddy lily flourished and was gone !
THE CRAWL 83
What miracle was this ? Again it grew,
The scarlet blossom on the stem of blue,
And withered back again into the night.
With pounding heart Hugh crawled along the
And reached a point of vantage whence, below,
He saw capricious witch-lights dim and glow
Like far-spent embers quickened in a breeze.
J Twas surely not a camp of laggard Rees,
Nor yet of Siouan warriors hot in chase.
Dusk and a quiet bivouacked in that place.
A doddering vagrant with numb hands, the Wind
Fumbled the dying ashes there, and whined.
It was the day-old camp-ground of the foe !
Glad-hearted now, Hugh gained the vale below,
Keen to possess once more the ancient gift.
Nearing the glow, he saw vague shadows lift
Out of the painted gloom of smouldering logs
Distorted bulks that bristled, and were dogs
Snarling at this invasion of their lair.
Hugh charged upon them, growling like a bear,
And sent them whining.
Now again to view
The burgeoning of scarlet, gold and blue,
The immemorial miracle of fire !
From heaped-up twigs a tenuous smoky spire
84 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
Arose, and made an altar of the place.
The spark-glow, faint upon the grizzled face,
Transformed the kneeling outcast to a priest;
And, native of the light-begetting East,
The Wind became a chanting acolyte.
These two, entempled in the vaulted night,
Breathed conjuries of interwoven breath.
Then, hark ! the snapping of the chains of
From dead wood, lo ! the epiphanic god !
Once more the freightage of the fennel rod
Dissolved the chilling pall of Jovian scorn.
The wonder of the resurrection morn,
The face apocalyptic and the sword,
The glory of the many-symboled Lord,
Hugh, lifting up his eyes about him, saw !
And something in him like a vernal thaw,
Voiced with the sound of many waters, ran
And quickened to the laughter of a man.
Light-heartedly he fed the singing flame
And took its blessing : till a soft sleep came
With dreaming that was like a pleasant tale.
The far white dawn was peering up the vale
When he awoke to indolent content.
A few shorn stars in pale astonishment
THE CRAWL 85
Were huddled westward ; and the fire was low.
Three scrawny camp-curs, mustered in a row
Beyond the heap of embers, heads askew,
Ears pricked to question what the man might do,
Sat wistfully regardant. He arose;
And they, grown canny in a school of blows,
Skulked to a safer distance, there to raise
A dolorous chanting of the evil days,
Their gray breath like the body of a prayer.
Hugh nursed the sullen embers to a flare,
Then set about to view an empty camp
As once before ; but now no smoky lamp
Of blear suspicion searched a gloom of fraud
Wherein a smirking Friendship, like a bawd,
Embraced a coward Safety ; now no grief,
'Twixt hideous revelation and belief,
Made womanish the man ; but glad to strive,
With hope to nerve him and a will to drive,
He knew that he could finish in the race.
The staring impassivity of space
No longer mocked ; the dreadful skyward climb,
Where distance seemed identical with time,
Was past now; and that mystic something, luck,
Without which worth may flounder in the ruck,
Had turned to him again.
So flamelike soared
Rekindled hope in him as he explored
86 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
Among the ash-heaps; and the lean dogs ran
And barked about him, for the love of man
Wistful, yet fearing. Surely he could find
Some trifle in the hurry left behind
Or haply hidden in the trampled sand
That to the cunning of a needy hand
Should prove the master-key of circumstance :
For 'tis the little gifts of grudging Chance,
Well husbanded, make victors.
Long he sought
Without avail ; and, crawling back, he thought
Of how the dogs were growing less afraid,
And how one might be skinned without a blade.
A flake of flint might do it : he would try.
And then he saw or did the servile eye
Trick out a mental image like the real ?
He saw a glimmering of whetted steel
Beside a heap now washed with morning light !
Scarce more of marvel and the sense of might
Moved Arthur when he reached a hand to take
The fay-wrought brand emerging from the lake,
Whereby a kingdom should be lopped of strife,
Than Hugh now, pouncing on a trader's knife
Worn hollow in the use of bounteous days !
And now behold a rich man by the blaze
Of his own hearth a lord of steel and fire !
THE CRAWL 87
Not having, but the measure of desire
Determines wealth. Who gaining more, seek
Are ever the pursuers of a ghost
And lend their fleetness to the fugitive.
For Hugh, long goaded by the wish to live,
What gage of mastery in fire and tool !
That twain wherewith Time put the brute to
Evolving Man, the maker and the seer.
'Twixt urging hunger and restraining fear
The gaunt dogs hovered round the man; while
Cajoled them in the language of the Ree
And simulated feeding them with sand,
Until the boldest dared to sniff his hand,
Bare-fanged and with conciliative whine.
Through bristled mane the quick blade bit the
Below the skull ; and as a flame-struck thing
The body humped and shuddered, withering;
The lank limbs huddled, wilted.
Now to skin
The carcass, dig a hole, arrange therein
And fix the pelt with stakes, the flesh-side up.
This done, he shaped the bladder to a cup
88 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
On willow withes, and filled the rawhide pot
With water from the river made it hot
With roasted stones, and set the meat a-boil.
Those days of famine and prodigious toil
Had wrought bulimic cravings in the man,
And scarce the cooking of the flesh outran
The eating of it. As a fed flame towers
According to the fuel it devours,
His hunger with indulgence grew, nor ceased
Until the kettle, empty of the feast,
Went dim, the sky and valley, merging, swirled
In subtle smoke that smothered out the world.
And then as divers, mounting, sunder
A murmuring murk to blink in sudden wonder
Upon a dazzling upper deep of blue
He rose again to consciousness, and knew
The low sun beating slantly on his face.
Now indolently gazing round the place,
He noted how the curs had revelled there
The bones and entrails gone; some scattered
Alone remaining of the pot of hide.
How strange he had not heard them at his side !
And granting but one afternoon had passed,
What could have made the fire burn out so fast ?
THE CRAWL 89
Had daylight waned, night fallen, morning crept,
Noon blazed, a new day dwindled while he
And was the friendlike fire a Jamie too ?
Across the twilit consciousness of Hugh
The old obsession like a wounded bird
He got upon his knees and stirred
The feathery ash ; but not a spark was there.
Already with the failing sun the air
Went keen, betokening a frosty night.
Hugh winced with something like the clutch of
How could he bear the torture, how sustain
The sting of that antiquity of pain
Rolled back upon him face again the foe,
That yielding victor, fleet in being slow,
That huge, impersonal malevolence ?
So readily the tentacles of sense
Root in the larger standard of desire,
That Hugh fell farther in the loss of fire
Than in the finding of it he arose.
And suddenly the place grew strange, as grows
A friend's house, when the friend is on his bier,
And all that was familiar there and dear
Puts on a blank, inhospitable look.
90 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
Hugh set his face against the east, and took
That dreariest of ways, the trail of flight.
He would outcrawl the shadow of the night
And have the day to blanket him in sleep.
But as he went to meet the gloom a-creep,
Bemused with life's irrational rebuffs,
A yelping of the dogs among the bluffs
Rose, hunger-whetted, stabbing ; rent the pall
Of evening silence ; blunted to a drawl
Amid the arid waterways, and died.
And as the echo to the sound replied,
So in the troubled mind of Hugh was wrought
A reminiscent cry of thought to thought
That, groping, found an unlocked door to life :
The dogs keen flint to skin one then the knife
Discovered. Why, that made a flint and steel!
No further with the subtle foe at heel
He fled ; for all about him in the rock,
To waken when the needy hand might knock,
A savior slept ! He found a flake of flint,
Scraped from his shirt a little wad of lint,
Spilled on it from the smitten stone a shower
Of ruddy seed ; and saw the mystic flower
That genders its own summer, bloom anew !
And so capricious luck came back to Hugh;
And he was happier than he had been
THE CRAWL 91
Since Jamie to that unforgiven sin
Had yielded, ages back upon the Grand.
Now he would turn the cunning of his hand
To carving crutches, that he might arise,
Be manlike, lift more rapidly the skies
That crouched between his purpose and the mark.
The warm glow housed him from the frosty dark,
And there he wrought in very joyous mood
And sang by fits whereat the solitude
Set laggard singers snatching at the tune.
The gaunter for their hunt, the dogs came soon
To haunt the shaken fringes of the glow,
And, pitching voices to the timeless woe,
Outwailed the lilting. So the Chorus sings
Of terror, pity and the tears of things
When most the doomed protagonist is gay.
The stars swarmed over, and the front of day
Whitened above a white world, and the sun
Rose on a sleeper with a task well done,
Nor roused him till its burning topped the blue.
When Hugh awoke, there woke a younger Hugh,
Now half a stranger ; and 'twas good to feel
With ebbing sleep the old green vigor steal,
Thrilling, along his muscles and his veins,
As in a lull of winter-cleansing rains
The gray bough quickens to the sap a-creep.
92 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
It chanced the dogs lay near him, sound asleep,
Curled nose to buttock in the noonday glow.
He killed the larger with a well-aimed blow,
Skinned, dressed and set it roasting on a spit ;
And when 'twas cooked, ate sparingly of it,
For need might yet make little seem a feast.
Fording the river shallows, south by east
He hobbled now along a withered rill
That issued where old floods had gashed the hill
A cyclopean portal yawning sheer.
No storm of countless hoofs had entered here :
It seemed a place where nothing ever comes
But change of season. He could hear the plums
Plash in the frosted thicket, over-lush ;
While, like a spirit lisping in the hush,
The crisp leaves whispered round him as they fell.
And ever now and then the autumn spell
Was broken by an ululating cry
From where far back with muzzle to the sky
The lone dog followed, mourning. Darkness
And huddled up beside a cozy flame,
Hugh's sleep was but a momentary flight
Across a little shadow into light.
So day on day he toiled : and when, afloat
Above the sunset like a stygian boat,
THE CRAWL 93
The new moon bore the spectre of the old,
He saw a dwindling strip of blue outrolled
The valley of the tortuous Cheyenne.
And ere the half moon sailed the night again,
Those far lone leagues had sloughed their garb of
And dwindled, dwindled, dwindled after Hugh,
Until he saw that Titan of the plains,
The sinewy Missouri. Dearth of rains
Had made the Giant gaunt as he who saw.
This loud Chain-Smasher of a late March thaw
Seemed never to have bellowed at his banks ;
And yet, with staring ribs and hollow flanks,
The urge of an indomitable will
Proclaimed him of the breed of giants still ;
And where the current ran a boiling track,
'Twas like the muscles of a mighty back
Grown Atlantean in the wrestler's craft.
Hugh set to work and built a little raft
Of driftwood bound with grapevines. So it fell
That one with an amazing tale to tell
Came drifting to the gates of Kiowa.
THE RETURN OF THE GHOST
NOT long Hugh let the lust of vengeance gnaw
Upon him idling; though the tale he told
And what report proclaimed him, were as gold
To buy a winter's comfort at the Post.
"I can not rest; for I am but the ghost
Of someone murdered by a friend," he said,
"So long as yonder traitor thinks me dead,
Aye, buried in the bellies of the crows
Whereupon said one of those
Who heard him, noting how the old man shook
As with a chill : "God fend that one should look
With such a blizzard of a face for me !"
For he went grayer like a poplar tree
That shivers, ruffling to the first faint breath
Of storm, while yet the world is still as death
Save where, far off, the kenneled thunders bay.
So brooding, he grew stronger day by day,
Until at last he laid the crutches by.
And then one evening came a rousing cry
THE RETURN OF THE GHOST 95
From where the year's last keelboat hove in view
Around the bend, its swarthy, sweating crew
Slant to the shouldered line.
Men sang that night
In Kiowa, and by the ruddy light
Of leaping fires amid the wooden walls
The cups went round; and there were merry
Of bearded lads no older for the beard ;
And laughing stories vied with tales of weird
By stream and prairie trail and mountain pass,
Until the tipsy Bourgeois bawled for Glass
To * shame these with a man's tale fit to hear/
The graybeard, sitting where the light was blear,
With little heart for revelry, began
His story, told as of another man
Who, loving late, loved much and was betrayed.
He spoke unwitting how his passion played
Upon them, how their eyes grew soft or hard
With what he told ; yet something of the bard
He seemed, and his the purpose that is art's,
Whereby men make a vintage of their hearts
And with the wine of beauty deaden pain.
Low-toned, insistent as October rain,
His voice beat on ; and now and then would flit
Across the melancholy gray of it
96 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
A glimmer of cold fire that, like the flare
Of soundless lightning, showed a world made bare,
Green Summer slain and all its leafage stripped.
And bronze jaws tightened, brawny hands were
As though each hearer had a fickle friend.
But when the old man might have made an end,
Rounding the story to a peaceful close
At Kiowa, songlike his voice arose,
The grinning gray mask lifted and the eyes
Burned as a bard's who sees and prophesies,
Conning the future as a time long gone.
Swaying to rhythm the dizzy tale plunged on
Even to the cutting of the traitor's throat,
And ceased as though a bloody strangling smote
The voice of that gray chanter, drunk with
And there was shuddering in the blue-smeared
Of fallen fires. It seemed the deed was done
Before their eyes who heard.
The morrow's sun,
Low over leagues of frost-enchanted plain,
Saw Glass upon his pilgrimage again,
Northbound as hunter for the keelboat's crew.
And many times the wide autumnal blue
THE RETURN OF THE GHOST 97
Burned out and darkened to a deep of stars;
And still they toiled among the snags and bars
Those lean up-stream men, straining at the rope,
Lashed by the doubt and strengthened by the
Of backward winter engines wrought of bone
And muscle, panting for the Yellowstone,
Bend after bend and yet more bends away.
Now was the river like a sandy bay
At ebb-tide, and the far-off cutbank's boom
Mocked them in shallows ; now 'twas like a flume
With which the toilers, barely creeping, strove.
And bend by bend the selfsame poplar grove,
Set on the selfsame headland, so it seemed,
Confronted them, as though they merely dreamed
Of passing one drear point.
So on and up
Past where the tawny Titan gulps the cup
Of Cheyenne waters, past the Moreau's mouth ;
And still wry league and stubborn league fell
Becoming haze and weary memory.
Then past the empty lodges of the Ree
That gaped at cornfields plundered by the Sioux ;
And there old times came mightily on Hugh,
For much of him was born and buried there.
Some troubled glory of that wind-tossed hair
98 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
Was on the trampled corn ; the lonely skies,
So haunted with the blue of Jamie's eyes,
Seemed taunting him ; and through the frosted
Along the flat, where once their tent had stood,
A chill wind sorrowed, and the blackbirds' brawl
Amid the funeral torches of the Fall
Ran raucously, a desecrating din.
Past where the Cannon Ball and Heart come in
They labored. Now the Northwest 'woke at last.
The gaunt bluffs bellowed back the trumpet blast
Of charging winds that made the sandbars smoke.
To breathe now was to gulp fine sand, and choke :
The stinging air was sibilant with whips.
Leaning the more and with the firmer grips,
Still northward the embattled toilers pressed
To where the river yaws into the west.
There stood the Mandan village.
The chaining of the Titan. Drift-ice ran.
The winged hounds of Winter ceased to bay.
The stupor of a doom completed lay
Upon the world. The biting darkness fell.
Out in the night, resounding as a well,
They heard the deckplanks popping in a vise
Of frost ; all night the smithies of the ice
THE RETURN OF THE GHOST 99
Reechoed with the griding jar and clink
Of ghostly hammers welding link to link :
And morning found the world without a sound.
There lay the stubborn Prairie Titan bound,
To wait the far-off Heraclean thaw,
Though still in silent rage he strove to gnaw
The ragged shackles knitting at his breast.
And so the boatman won a winter's rest
Among the Mandan traders : but for Hugh
There yet remained a weary work to do.
Across the naked country west by south
His purpose called him at the Big Horn's mouth
Three hundred miles of winging for the crow;
But by the river trail that he must go
J Twas seven hundred winding miles at least.
So now he turned his back upon the feast,
Snug ease, the pleasant tale, the merry mood,
And took the bare, foot-sounding solitude
Northwestward. Long they watched him from
Skied on a bluff-rim, fading like a ghost
At gray cock-crow ; and hooded in his breath,
He seemed indeed a fugitive from Death
On whom some tatter of the shroud still clung.
Blank space engulfed him.
Now the moon was yung
ioo SONG OF HUGH GLASS
When he set forth; and day by day he strode,
His scarce healed wounds upon him like a load ;
And dusk by dusk his fire outflared the moon
That waxed until it wrought a spectral noon
At nightfall. Then he came to where, awhirl
With Spring's wild rage, the snow-born Titan girl,
A skyey wonder on her virgin face,
Receives the virile Yellowstone's embrace
And bears the lusty Seeker for the Sea.
A bleak, horizon-wide serenity
Clung round the valley where the twain lay dead.
A winding sheet was on the marriage bed.
'Twas warmer now ; the sky grew overcast ;
And as Hugh strode southwestward, all the vast
Gray void seemed suddenly astir with wings
And multitudinary whisperings
The muffled sibilance of tumbling snow.
It seemed no more might living waters flow,
Moon gleam, star glint, dawn smoulder through,
Or ever any fair familiar thing
Be so again. The outworn winds were furled.
Weird weavers of the twilight of a world
Wrought, thread on kissing thread, the web of
Grown insubstantial in the knitted gloom,
THE RETURN OF THE GHOST 101
The bluffs loomed eerie, and the scanty trees
Were dwindled to remote dream-traceries
That never might be green or shield a nest.
All day with swinging stride Hugh forged south
Along the Yellowstone's smooth-paven stream,
A dream-shape moving in a troubled dream ;
And all day long the whispering weavers wove.
And close on dark he came to where a grove
Of cottonwoods rose tall and shadow-thin
Against the northern bluffs. He camped therein
And with cut boughs made shelter as he might.
Close pressed the blackness of the snow-choked
About him, and his fire of plum wood purred.
Athwart a soft penumbral drowse he heard
The tumbling snowflakes sighing all around,
Till sleep transformed it to a Summer sound
Of boyish memory susurrant bees,
The Southwind in the tousled apple trees
And slumber flowing from their leafy gloom.
He wakened to the cottonwoods' deep boom.
Black fury was the world. The northwest's roar,
As of a surf upon a shipwreck shore,
102 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
Plunged high above him from the sheer bluff's
And, like the backward sucking of the surge,
Far fled the sobbing of the wild snow-spray.
Black blindness grew white blindness and 'twas
All being now seemed narrowed to a span
That held a sputtering wood fire and a man ;
Beyond was tumult and a whirling maze.
The trees were but a roaring in a haze;
The sheer bluff-wall that took the blizzard's
Was thunder flung along the hidden marge
Of chaos, stridden by the ghost of light.
White blindness grew black blindness and 'twas
Wherethrough nor moon nor any star might grope.
Two days since, Hugh had killed an antelope
And what remained sufficed the time of storm.
The snow banked round his shelter kept him warm
And there was wood to burn for many a day.
The third dawn, oozing through a smudge of gray,
Awoke him. It was growing colder fast.
Still from the bluff high over boomed the blast,
THE RETURN OF THE GHOST 103
But now it took the void with numbing wings.
By noon the woven mystery of things
Frayed raggedly, and through a sudden rift
At length Hugh saw the beetling bluff-wall lift
A sturdy shoulder to the flying rack.
Slowly the sense of distances came back
As with the waning day the great wind fell.
The pale sun set upon a frozen hell.
The wolves howled.
Hugh had left the Mandan town
When, heifer-horned, the maiden moon lies down
Beside the sea of evening. Now she rose
Scar-faced and staring blankly on the snows
While yet the twilight tarried in the west ;
And more and more she came a tardy guest
As Hugh pushed onward through the frozen
Until she stole on midnight shadow-faced,
A haggard spectre; then no more appeared.
'Twas on that time the man of hoary beard
Paused in the early twilight, looming lone
Upon a bluff-rim of the Yellowstone,
And peered across the white stream to the south
Where in the flatland at the Big Horn's mouth
The new fort stood that Henry's men had built.
104 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
What perfect peace for such a nest of guilt !
What satisfied immunity from woe !
Yon sprawling shadow, pied with candle-glow
And plumed with sparkling wood-smoke, might
A homestead with the children gathered in
To share its bounty through the holidays.
Hugh saw their faces round the gay hearth-blaze :
The hale old father in a mood for yarns
Or boastful of the plenty of his barns,
Fruitage of honest toil and grateful lands;
And, half a stranger to her folded hands,
The mother with October in her hair
And August in her face. One moment there
Hugh saw it. Then the monstrous brutal fact
Wiped out the dream and goaded him to act,
Though now to act seemed strangely like a dream.
Descending from the bluff, he crossed the stream,
The dry snow fifing to his eager stride.
Reaching the fort stockade, he paused to bide
The passing of a whimsy. Was it true ?
Or was this but the fretted wraith of Hugh
Whose flesh had fed the kiotes long ago ?
Still through a chink he saw the candle-glow,
So like an eye that brazened out a wrong.
And now there came a flight of muffled song,
THE RETURN OF THE GHOST 105
The rhythmic thudding of a booted heel
That timed a squeaking fiddle to a reel !
How swiftly men forget ! The spawning Earth
Is fat with graves ; and what is one man worth
That fiddles should be muted at his fall ?
He should have died and did not that was
Well, let the living jig it ! He would turn
Back to the night, the spacious unconcern
Of wilderness that never played the friend.
Now came the song and fiddling to an end,
And someone laughed within. The old man
Listened with bated breath, and was convinced
'Twas Jamie laughing! Once again he heard.
Joy filled a hush 'twixt heart-beats like a bird ;
Then like a famished cat his lurking hate
He found the outer gate,
Beat on it with his shoulder, raised a cry.
No doubt 'twas deemed a fitful wind went by ;
None stirred. But when he did not cease to
A door creaked open and a man came out
Amid the spilling candle-glimmer, raised
The wicket in the outer gate and gazed
106 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
One moment on a face as white as death,
Because the beard was thick with frosted breath
Made mystic by the stars. Then came a gasp,
The clatter of the falling wicket's hasp,
The crunch of panic feet along the snow;
And someone stammered huskily and low :
"My God! I saw the Old Man's ghost out
'Twas spoken as one speaks who feels his hair
Prickle the scalp. And then another said
It seemed like Henry's voice "The dead are
What talk is this, Le Bon ? You saw him die !
Hugh strove to shout, to give the lie
To those within ; but could not fetch a sound.
Just so he dreamed of lying under ground
Beside the Grand and hearing overhead
The talk of men. Or was he really dead,
And all this but a maggot in the brain ?
Then suddenly the clatter of a chain
Aroused him, and he saw the portal yawn
And saw a bright rectangled patch of dawn
As through a grave's mouth no, 'twas candle
Poured through the open doorway on the night ;
THE RETURN OF THE GHOST 107
And those were men before him, bulking black
Against the glow.
Reality flashed back;
He strode ahead and entered at the door.
A falling fiddle jangled on the floor
And left a deathly silence. On his bench
The fiddler shrank. A row of eyes, a-blench
With terror, ran about the naked hall.
And there was one who huddled by the wall
And hid his face and shivered.
For a spell
That silence clung ; and then the old man :
Is this the sort of welcome that I get ?
'Twas not my time to feed the kiotes yet !
Put on the pot and stew a chunk of meat
And you shall see how much a ghost can eat !
I've journeyed far if what I hear be true !"
Now in that none might doubt the voice of
Nor yet the face, however it might seem
A blurred reflection in a flowing stream,
A buzz of wonder broke the trance of dread.
"Good God!" the Major gasped ; "We thought
you dead !
Two men have testified they saw you die!"
io8 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
"If they speak truth," Hugh answered, "then I lie
Both here and by the Grand. If I be right,
Then two lie here and shall lie from this- night.
Which are they ?"
Henry answered : "Yon is one."
The old man set the trigger of his gun
And gazed on Jules who cowered by the wall.
Eyes blinked, expectant of the hammer's fall ;
Ears strained, anticipative of the roar.
But Hugh walked leisurely across the floor
And kicked the croucher, saying: "Come, get up
And wag your tail ! I couldn't kill a pup !"
Then turning round : "I had a faithful friend;
No doubt he too was with me to the end !
"Started out before the snows
THE Country of the Crows,
Through which the Big Horn and the Rosebud
Sees over mountain peaks the setting sun ;
And southward from the Yellowstone flung wide,
It broadens ever to the morning side
And has the Powder on its vague frontier.
About the subtle changing of the year,
Ere even favored valleys felt the stir
Of Spring, and yet expectancy of her
Was like a pleasant rumor all repeat
Yet none may prove, the sound of horses' feet
Went eastward through the silence of that land.
For then it was there rode a little band
Of trappers out of Henry's Post, to bear
Dispatches down to Atkinson, and there
To furnish out a keelboat for the Horn.
And four went lightly, but the fifth seemed worn
As with a heavy heart ; for that was he
Who should have died but did not.
no SONG OF HUGH GLASS
He heard the careless parley of his men,
And thought of how the Spring should come
That garish strumpet with her world-old lure,
To waken hope where nothing may endure,
To quicken love where loving is betrayed.
Yet now and then some dream of Jamie made
Slow music in him for a little while ;
And they who rode beside him saw a smile
Glimmer upon that ruined face of gray,
As on a winter fog the groping day
Pours glory through a momentary rift.
Yet never did the gloom that bound him, lift ;
He seemed as one who feeds upon his heart
And finds, despite the bitter and the smart,
A little sweetness and is glad for that.
Now up the Powder, striking for the Platte
Across the bleak divide the horsemen went ;
Attained that river where its course is bent
From north to east : and spurring on apace
Along the wintry valley, reached the place
Where from the west flows in the Laramie.
Thence, fearing to encounter with the Ree,
They headed eastward through the barren land
To where, fleet-footed down a track of sand,
The Niobrara races for the morn
A gaunt-loined runner.
Here at length was born
Upon the southern slopes the baby Spring,
A timid, fretful, ill-begotten thing,
A-suckle at the Winter's withered paps :
Not such as when announced by thunder-claps
And ringed with swords of lightning, she would
The haughty victrix and the mystic bride,
Clad splendidly as never Sheba's Queen,
Before her marching multitudes of green
In many-bannered triumph ! Grudging, slow,
Amid the fraying fringes of the snow
The bunch-grass sprouted ; and the air was
Along the northern slopes 'twas winter still,
And no root dreamed what Triumph-over-Death
Was nurtured now in some bleak Nazareth
Beyond the crest to sunward.
On they spurred
Through vacancies that waited for the bird,
And everywhere the Odic Presence dwelt.
The Southwest blew, the snow began to melt ;
And when they reached the valley of the Snake,
The Niobrara's ice began to break,
112 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
And all night long and all day long it made
A sound as of a random cannonade
With rifles snarling down a skirmish line.
The geese went over. Every tree and vine
Was dotted thick with leaf-buds when they saw
The little river of Keyapaha
Grown mighty for the moment. Then they came,
One evening when all thickets were aflame
With pale green witch-fires and the windflowers
To where the headlong Niobrara threw
His speed against the swoln Missouri's flank
And hurled him roaring to the further bank
A giant staggered by a pigmy's sling.
Thence, plunging ever deeper into Spring,
Across the greening prairie east by south
They rode, and, just above the Platte's wide
Came, weary with the trail, to Atkinson.
There all the vernal wonder-work was done :
No care-free heart might find aught lacking there.
The dove's call wandered in the drowsy air;
A love-dream brooded in the lucent haze.
Priapic revellers, the shrieking jays
Held mystic worship in the secret shade.
Woodpeckers briskly plied their noisy trade
Along the tree-boles, and their scarlet hoods
Flashed flame-like in the smoky cottonwoods.
What lacked ? Not sweetness in the sun-lulled
The plum bloom murmurous with bumblebees
Was drifted deep in every draw and slough.
Not color ; witcheries of gold and blue
The dandelion and the violet
Wove in the green. Might not the sad forget,
The happy here have nothing more to seek ?
Lo, yonder by that pleasant little creek,
How one might loll upon the grass and fish
And build the temple of one's wildest wish
'Twixt nibbles ! Surely there was quite enough
Of wizard-timber and of wonder-stuff
To rear it nobly to the blue-domed roof!
Yet there was one whose spirit stood aloof
From all this joyousness a gray old man,
No nearer now than when the quest began
To what he sought on that long winter trail.
Aye, Jamie had been there ; but when the tale
That roving trappers brought from Kiowa
Was told to him, he seemed as one who saw
A ghost, and could but stare on it, they said :
Until one day he mounted horse and fled
114 SON G OF HUGH GLASS
Into the North, a devil-ridden man.
"I've got to go and find him if I can,"
Was all he said for days before he left.
And what of Hugh ? So long of love bereft,
So long sustained and driven by his hate,
A touch of ruth now made him desolate.
No longer eager to avenge the wrong,
With not enough of pity to be strong
And" just enough of love to choke and sting,
A gray old hulk amid the surge of Spring
He floundered on a lee-shore of the heart.
But when the boat was ready for the start
Up the long watery stairway to the Horn,
Hugh joined the party. And the year was shorn
Of blooming girlhood as they forged amain
Into the North ; the late green-mantled plain
Grew sallow ; and the ruthless golden shower
Of Summer wrought in lust upon the flower
That withered in the endless martyrdom
To seed. The scarlet quickened on the plum
About the Heart's mouth when they came thereto ;
Among the Mandans grapes were turning blue,
And they were purple at the Yellowstone.
A frosted scrub-oak, standing out alone
Upon a barren bluff top, gazing far
Above the crossing at the Powder's bar,
Was spattered with the blood of Summer slain.
So it was Autumn in the world again,
And all those months of toil had yielded nought
To Hugh. (How often is the seeker sought
By what he seeks a blind, heart-breaking
For always had the answer been the same
From roving trapper and at trading post :
Aye, one who seemed to stare upon a ghost
And followed willy-nilly where it led,
Had gone that way in search of Hugh, they said
A haggard, blue-eyed, yellow-headed chap.
And often had the old man thought, * Mayhap
He'll be at Henry's Post and we shall meet ;
And to forgive and to forget were sweet :
'Tis for its nurse that Vengeance whets the tooth !
And oh the golden time of Jamie's youth,
That it should darken for a graybeard's whim !'
So Hugh had brooded, till there came on him
The pity of a slow rain after drouth.
But at the crossing of the Rosebud's mouth
A shadow fell upon his growing dream.
A band of Henry's traders, bound down stream,
Who paused to traffic in the latest word
Down-river news for matters seen and heard
ii6 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
In higher waters had not met the lad,
Not yet encountered anyone who had.
Alas, the journey back tO'yesterwhiles !
How tangled are the trails ! The stubborn miles,
How wearily they stretch ! And if one win
The long way back in search of what has been,
Shall he find aught that is not strange and new ?
Thus wrought the melancholy news in Hugh,
As he turned back with those who brought the
For more and more he dreaded now to lose
What doubtful seeking rendered doubly dear.
And in the time when keen winds stripped the
He came with those to where the Poplar joins
The greater river. There Assinoboines,
Rich from the Summer's hunting, had come down
And flung along the flat their ragged town,
That traders might bring goods and winter there.
So leave the heartsick graybeard. Otherwhere
The final curtain rises on the play.
'Tis dead of Winter now. For day on day
The blizzard wind has thundered, sweeping wide
From Mississippi to the Great Divide
Out of the North beyond Saskatchewan.
Brief evening glimmers like an inverse dawn
After a long white night. The tempest dies ;
The snow-haze lifts. Now let the curtain rise
Upon Milk River valley, and reveal
The stars like broken glass on frosted steel
Above the Piegan lodges, huddled deep
In snowdrifts, like a freezing flock of sheep.
A crystal weight the dread cold crushes down
And no one moves about the little town
That seems to grovel as a thing that fears.
But see ! a lodge-flap swings ; a squaw appears,
Hunched with the sudden cold. Her footsteps
Shrill in the hush. She stares upon the bleak,
White skyline for a moment, then goes in.
We follow her, push back the flap of skin,
Enter the lodge, inhale the smoke-tanged air
And blink upon the little faggot-flare
That blossoms in the center of the room.
Unsteady shadows haunt the outer gloom
Wherein the walls are guessed at. Upward,
The smoke-vent now and then reveals a star
As in a well. The ancient squaw, a-stoop,
Her face light-stricken, stirs a pot of soup
ii8 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
That simmers with a pleasant smell and sound.
A gnarled old man, cross-legged upon the ground,
Sits brooding near. He feeds the flame with
It brightens. Lo, a leaden crucifix
Upon the wall ! These heathen eyes, though dim,
Have seen the white man's God and cling to Him,
Lest on the sunset trail slow feet should err.
But look again. From yonder bed of fur
Beside the wall a white man strives to rise.
He lifts his head, with yearning sightless eyes
Gropes for the light. A mass of golden hair
Falls round the face that sickness and despair
Somehow make old, albeit he is young.
His weak voice, stumbling to the mongrel tongue
Of traders, flings a question to the squaw :
"You saw no Black Robe ? Tell me what you
And she, brief-spoken as her race, replies :
"Heaped snow sharp stars a kiote on the
The blind youth huddles moaning in the furs.
The firewood spits and pops, the boiled pot purrs
And sputters. On this little isle of sound
The sea of winter silence presses round
One feels it like a menace.
Now the crone
Dips out a cup of soup, and having blown
Upon it, takes it to the sick man there
And bids him eat. With wild, unseeing stare
He turns upon her : "Why are they so long ?
I can not eat ! I've done a mighty wrong ;
It chokes me ! Oh no, no, I must not die
Until the Black Robe comes !" His feeble cry
Sinks to a whisper. "Tell me, did they go
Your kinsmen ?"
"They went south before the snow."
"And will they tell the Black Robe ?"
"They will tell."
The crackling of the faggots for a spell
Seems very loud. Again the sick man moans
And, struggling with the weakness in his bones,
Would gain his feet, but can not. "Go again,
And tell me that you see the bulks of men
Dim in the distance there."
The squaw obeys ;
Returns anon to crouch beside the blaze,
Numb-fingered and a-shudder from the night.
The vacant eyes that hunger for the light
Are turned upon her: "Tell me what you saw!
Or maybe snowshoes sounded up the draw.
Quick, tell me what you saw and heard out there !"
120 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
"Heaped snow sharp stars big stillness every
One clutching at thin ice with numbing grip
Cries while he hopes ; but when his fingers slip,
He takes the final plunge without a sound.
So sinks the youth now, hopeless. All around
The winter silence presses in ; the walls
Grow vague and vanish in the gloom that crawls
Close to the failing fire.
The Piegans sleep.
Night hovers midway down the morning steep.
The sick man drowses. Nervously he starts
And listens; hears no sound except his heart's
And that weird murmur brooding stillness makes.
But stealthily upon the quiet breaks
Vague as the coursing of the hearer's blood
A muffled, rhythmic beating, thud on thud,
That, growing nearer, deepens to a crunch.
So, hungry for the distance, snowshoes munch
The crusted leagues of Winter, stride by stride.
A camp-dog barks ; the hollow world outside
Brims with the running howl of many curs.
Now wide-awake, half risen in the furs,
The youth can hear low voices and the creak
Of snowshoes near the lodge. His thin, wild
Startles the old folk from their slumberings :
" He comes ! The Black Robe ! "
Now the door-flap swings,
And briefly one who splutters Piegan, bars
The way, then enters. Now the patch of stars
Is darkened with a greater bulk that bends
Beneath the lintel. " Peace be with you, friends !
And peace with him herein who suffers pain I"
So speaks the second comer of the twain
A white man by his voice. And he who lies
Beside the wall, with empty, groping eyes
Turned to the speaker: "There can be no peace
For me, good Father, till this gnawing cease
The gnawing of a great wrong I have done."
The big man leans above the youth : "My son "
(Grown husky with the word, the deep voice
And for a little spell the whole man shakes
As with the clinging cold) " have faith and
'Tis often nearest dawn when most we grope.
Does not the Good Book say, Who seek shall
"But, Father, I am broken now and blind,
And I have sought, and I have lost the way."
To which the stranger : "What would Jesus say ?
122 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
Hark ! In the silence of the heart 'tis said
By their own weakness are the feeble sped ;
The humblest feet are surest for the goal ;
The blind shall see the City of the Soul.
Lay down your burden at His feet to-night."
Now while the fire, replenished, bathes in light
The young face scrawled with' suffering and care,
Flinging ironic glories on the hair
And glinting on dull eyes that once flashed blue,
The sick one tells the story of old Hugh
To him whose face, averted from the glow,
Still lurks in gloom. The winds of battle blow
Once more along the steep. Again one sees
The rescue from the fury of the Rees,
The graybeard's fondness for the gay lad ; then
The westward march with Major Henry's men
With all that happened there upon the Grand.
"And so we hit the trail of Henry's band,"
The youth continues; "for we feared to die :
And dread of shame was ready with the lie
We carried to our comrades. Hugh was dead
And buried there beside the Grand, we said.
Could any doubt that what we said was true ?
They even praised our courage ! But I knew !
The nights were hell because I heard his cries
And saw the crows a-pecking at his eyes,
The kiotes tearing at him. O my God !
I tried and tried to think him under sod ;
But every time I slept it was the same.
And then one night I lay awake he came !
I say he came I know I hadn't slept !
Amid a light like rainy dawn, he crept
Out of the dark upon his hands and knees.
The wound he got that day among the Rees
Was like red fire. A snarl of bloody hair
Hung round the eyes that had a pleading stare,
And down the ruined face and gory beard
Big tear-drops rolled. He went as he appeared,
Trailing a fog of light that died away.
And I grew old before I saw the day.
Father, I had paid too much for breath !
The Devil traffics in the fear of death,
And may God pity anyone who buys
What I have bought with treachery and lies
This rat-like gnawing in my breast !
" I knew
1 couldn't rest until I buried Hugh ;
And so I told the Major I would go
To Atkinson with letters, ere the snow
Had choked the trails. Jules wouldn't come
He didn't seem to realize the wrong ;
124 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
He called me foolish, couldn't understand.
I rode alone not south, but to the Grand.
Daylong my horse beat thunder from the sod,
Accusing me ; and all my prayers to God
Seemed flung in vain at bolted gates of brass.
And in the night the wind among the grass
Hissed endlessly the story of my shame.
" I do not know how long I rode : I came
Upon the Grand at last, and found the place,
And it was empty. Not a sign or trace
Was left to show what end had come to Hugh.
And oh that grave ! It gaped upon the blue,
A death-wound pleading dumbly for the slain.
I filled it up and fled across the plain,
And somehow came to Atkinson at last.
And there I heard the living Hugh had passed
Along the river northward in the Fall !
O Father, he had found the strength to crawl
That long, heart-breaking distance back to life,
Though Jules had taken blanket, steel and knife.
And I, his trusted comrade, had his gun !
" They said I'd better stay at Atkinson,
Because old Hugh was surely hunting me,
White-hot to kill. I did not want to flee
Or hide from him. I even wished to die,
If so this aching cancer of a lie
Might be torn out forever. So I went,
As eager as the homesick homeward bent,
In search of him and peace.
But I was cursed.
For even when his stolen rifle burst
And spewed upon me this eternal night,
I might not die as any other might ;
But God so willed that friendly Piegans came
To spare me yet a little unto shame.
O Father, is there any hope for me ?"
"Great hope indeed, my son !" so huskily
The other answers. "I recall a case
Like yours no matter what the time and
'Twas somewhat like the story that you tell ;
Each seeking and each sought, and both in hell;
But in the tale I mind, they met at last."
The youth sits up, white-faced and breathing
"They met, you say ? What happened ? Quick !
"The old man found the dear lad blind and sick
And both forgave 'twas easy to forgive
For oh we have so short a time to live "
126 SONG OF HUGH GLASS
Whereat the youth: "Who's here? The Black
Robe's gone !
Whose voice is this ?"
The gray of winter dawn
Now creeping round the door-flap, lights the
And shows thin fingers groping for a face
Deep-scarred and hoary with the frost of years
Whereover runs a new springtide of tears.
"O Jamie, Jamie, Jamie I am Hugh !
There was no Black Robe yonder Will I do ?' :
BY JULIUS T. HOUSE, PH.D. (Chicago)
Head of the Department of English at the State Normal School,
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GRAYBEARD AND GOLDHAIR
Before beginning the poem carefully read the Introduction.
In the study of this poem it is necessary to learn the geography and
topography of the country. Define " topography." Tell about Leaven-
worth Campaign; Major Henry.
The story of Hugh Glass is historical and may be found in the fol
lowing works : Chittenden's History of the American Fur Trade, New
York, 1902; Sage's Scenes in the Rocky Mountains, Boston, 1857;
Ruxton's Adventures in Mexico, London, 1847; Howe's Historical Col
lections of the Great West, Cincinnati, 1857; Cooke's Scenes and Ad
ventures in the U. S. Army, Philadelphia, 1857; The Missouri Intelli
gencer for June 18, 1825. Accounts of the death of Hugh Glass, in
1832, are given in The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth,
London, 1892, and in Maximilian's Travels, London, 1843.
2. 'Twas when the guns that blustered at the Ree
Ree Aricara or Rickaree Indians. Locate them in 1823.
Where are they now ?
3. Had ceased to brag, and ten score martial clowns
Why "clowns" ? See Introduction.
6. A withering blast the arid South still blew,
What is "South"? Why capitalized ? Did Homer and Vergil
personify the winds ?
9. Southward before the Great White Hunter's face :
Who is the Great White Hunter ? What is the time of year ?
13. With eighty trappers up the dwindling Grand,
14. Bound through the weird, unfriending barren-land
"Unfriending" whom ?
16. For where the Big Horn meets the Yellowstone;
Locate the junction of the streams.
1. Deep-chested, that his great heart might have play,
Describe Hugh Glass. Hugh's physical characteristics are drawn
in large lines. Compare this with the more elaborate descriptions
of persons in other books. Which is more effective ?
2. Gray-bearded, gray of eye and crowned with gray
Our author's descriptions leave much room for the play of the
reader's imagination. Is this method effective with you ?
4. And, for the grudging habit of his tongue,
"For" by reason of.
8. And hate in him was like a still, white hell,
9. A thing of doom not lightly reconciled.
What does "reconciled" modify? What is this figure called ?
14. Old Hugh stared long upon the pictured blaze,
What were the pictures Hugh saw in the blaze ? Would you like
to know more of Hugh's past ? Why does not the author tell us
more concerning it ?
17. The veil was rent, and briefly men discerned
19. Beneath the still gray smoldering of him.
What figure in "still gray smoldering"? Was Hugh a good
fighter ? A man whose anger was to be feared ?
2. So, tardily, outflowered the wild blond strain
Whence the "wild blond strain" ?
4. A Ganymedes haunted by a Goth
Who was Ganymedes ? The Goths ?
6. When the restive ghost was laid,
What was the "restive ghost" ? How old was Jamie r
17. When Ashley stormed a bluff town of the Ree,
Who was Ashley ? See Introduction.
20. Yet, hardly courage, but blind rage agrope
What is courage ?
23. Tore off the gray mask, and the heart shone through.
What was the "gray mask" ?
24. For, halting in a dry, flood-guttered draw,
Define " draw" as here used. How does it differ from " ravine " ?
from "gully" ?
24. As though spring-fire should waken out of snow.
Explain the figure.
4. So with their sons are women brought to bed,
Of whom .is Hugh thinking when he uses these words ?
13. Nor could these know what mocking ghost of Spring
Express in other words the idea contained in "mocking ghost
16. So might a dawn-struck digit of the moon
Explain the figure and interpret it in terms of Hugh's feelings for
18. And ache through all its craters to be green.
What is the present condition of the surface of the moon ?
21. Pang dwelling in a puckered cicatrice
Define " cicatrice." Explain the figure.
23. Yet very precious was the hurt thereof,
24. Grievous to bear, too dear to cast away.
These lines constitute a paradox. Define " paradox." Explain
the meaning of the lines. Can pain be "precious" ?
What lines in this page forecast an approaching disaster ? Can you
recall such forecasts in other pieces of literature ?
10. A phantom April over melting snow,
Why "phantom" April?
11. Deep in the North some new white wrath is brewed.
Express the meaning of this line in other language. How does
it apply to the story ?
16. Tales jagged with the bleak unstudied word,
Was the language of Hugh's stories polished ? Effective ? Are
men natural story tellers ? Answer from your own experience.
What does the life of primitive man tell us with regard to the
17. Stark saga-stuff.
Define "saga." What is meant by the words: "stark saga-
19. A mere pelt merchant, as it seemed to him ;
Define: pelt, epic, whist. Is "Hugh Glass" epic in material
and form ?
Which of these men loves the other more ? In case of severe trial will
each be true to the other ? Is either likely to be vengeful ? unforgiv
ing ? fickle ?
3. That myth that somehow had to be the truth,
What is "that myth" ? What feeling is expressed in "had to be
the truth " ?
4. Yet could not be convincing any more.
Why could it not "be convincing any more" ?
17. And so with merry jest the old man went;
Note in the passage the second forecast of disaster.
9. The dusty progress of the cavalcade
10. The journey of a snail flock to the moon;
What feeling in Jamie is made clear in this figure ?
11. Until the shadow-weaving afternoon
Explain the figure "shadow-weaving afternoon," etc.
17. Hoofbeats of ghostly steeds on every hill,
18. Mysterious, muffled hoofs on every bluff!
19. Spurred echo horses clattering up the rough, etc.
Explain "hoofbeats of ghostly steeds," "muffled hoofs," "echo
21. The lagging air droned like the drowsy word
Why " drowsy " word ? The transfer of an epithet is called a
"trope," from a Greek word meaning to turn.
1. Lean galloper in a wind of splendid deeds,
Note the vivid imagery and the effect of the broken meter.
4. The horse stopped short then Jamie was aware, etc.
What gives the effect of loneliness in these lines ?
Note the effect of vast stretches of space in the use of the names
of heavenly bodies to denote the points of the compass. A sense
of the infinity of space arises often in the reader of this poem.
Any imaginative person feels this sense ever deepening upon him
on looking long at the prairies.
11. Save for a welter of cawing crows,
What is the effect of the cawing of the crows in the general still
Note that the meter is intentionally changed. What effect ?
13. One faint star, set above the fading blush, etc.
What is the effect of the mention of the star and its growing from
faint to clear ?
16. For answer, the horse neighed.
What is the effect of the neighing of the horse ?
17. Some vague mistrust now made him half afraid, etc.
Mistrust of what ? Is disaster near ?
1. " Somewhere about the forks as like as not ;
2. And there'll be hunks of fresh meat steaming hot,
3. And righting stories by a dying fire !"
Why does Jamie talk to himself?
4. The sunset reared a luminous phantom spire
6. That, crumbling, sifted ashes down the sky.
What is the effect of these two lines ?
8. And in the vast denial of the hush
9. The champing of the snaffled horse seemed loud.
What is the effect of these two lines ? What is the "vast denial" ?
Why mention "the champing of the horse"? Pages 9 and 10
are used to induce in the reader a sense of extreme loneliness.
Where is the climax ? What devices have been employed for the
17. The laggard air was like a voice that sang,
Why is the air now as a voice that sings rather than drowsy and
13. And Jamie half believed he sniffed the tang
19. Of woodsmoke and the smell of flesh a-roast;
These lines indicate the lad's eagerness.
2. And in the whirlwind of a moment there, etc.
Could Jamie perceive so much in so brief a time under such cir
cumstances ? Does the picture in "huddled, broken thing"
seem realistic ?
11. A landscape stares with every circumstance etc.
Jamie's experience in the preceding lines is here explained. Did
you ever notice how plainly things stand out in a flare of light
11. Then before his eyes, etc.
Is this consistent with the part of Jamie in the fight with the
22. Heard the brush crash etc.
Onomatopoeia. Define " rubble."
1. A swift thought swept the mind of Jamie clear, etc.
Is the change in Jamie from anger to coolness good psychology ?
8. Swerved sharply streamward. Sliddering in the sand,
Note onomatopoeia. How did Jamie elude the bear ?
17. Like some vague shape of fury in a dream,
Why did the sight of the bear seem thus to Jamie ?
4. Would think of such a "trick of getting game" !
For a moment Jamie feels as if Hugh were still living and he can
now triumph in his skill. Was that natural in a boy ?
6. Like a dull blade thrust back into a wound.
Memory of sorrow "like a dull blade," etc. Is that true to life ?
10. Like some familiar face gone strange at last.
Meaning of "gone strange at last" ?
In this and the next three pages note the sincerity and the boy
ishness of Jamie's affection and grief. It is necessary to under
stand Jamie now that the reader may interpret his later conduct.
Define : eld, blear.
6. Had wiped the pictured features from a slate ! etc.
Note two powerful similes in these lines. Do they convey ade
quately the horror of the spectator? This "ruined face" of
Hugh's has much place in the remainder of the story. The lines
are not pleasant to read, but life is not always pleasant. Homer
and Shakespeare often wrote lines that shock by their naked
15. Still painted upon black that alien stare
Why "alien stare"?
16. To make the lad more terribly alone.
Why "more terribly alone"?
21. Pale vagrants from the legendry of death
Pale vagrants, i.e. ghosts.
Define : funereal, alien, legendry, potential.
6. For, though the graybeard fought with sobbing breath, etc.
A wrestling match in which death has a "strangling grip" on
Hugh. Note the vividness of physical imagery, "neck veins
like a purple thong tangled with knots." What biblical allu
sion in "break upon the hip" ?
11. There where the trail forked outward far and dim ;
What "trail forked outward"?
13. His moan went treble like a song of pain,
Does the voice become like a shrill song under such circum
20. For dying is a game of solitaire, etc.
A grim epigram.
Define : treble, solitaire.
PAGE 1 8
The rest of this division of the poem develops the catastrophe of
cowardice and treachery. The elements of it are (i) Jamie's youth-
fulness and unsettled character, (z) Le Bon's ability to play upon his
weakness, (3) the actual nearness of the Rees, (4) the apparently hope
less condition of Hugh prolonged over several days.
12. That mercenary motives prompted him.
Do you believe the protestations of Jules that mercenary motives
do not prompt him ? Does he "protest too much" ?
16, The Rickarees were scattered to the West :
Why mention the Indians so early ?
19. Three days a southwest wind may blow
A southwest wind on the plains is always warm, and seldom
Explain the application.
Why does Jules talk always as though the death of Hugh were certain ?
10. Unnumbered tales accordant with the case,
Do you think Le Bon knew these tales ?
18. A bear's hug ugh !' And often Jamie winced etc.
What was the effect on Jamie ?
Define : dialectic, colophon.
8. So summoning a mood etc.
How do Le Bon's storiefe change as night comes on ? Is his
psychology effective ? Note the increase in the fears of Jamie.
11. Of men outnumbered : and, like him of old, etc.
"Him of old" ^Eneas in ^neid, Book II.
23. Gray-souled, he wakened to a dawn of gray,
" Gray-souled " meaning ? "A poet is known by his epithets/
Define : lugubriously, garrulous.
1. And felt that something strong had gone away,
What strong thing had gone away ?
5. Jules, snug and snoring in his blanket there, etc.
Is it natural that the conscious living Jules should seem more
real to the boy than his unconscious friend ?
6. Just so, pain etc.
Note the epigram. Is it a true one ?
14. But grappled with the angel.
Jacob in Genesis.
18. Many men May tower, etc.
Would such a statement be peculiarly true of a boy like Jamie ?
Recall his conduct in the Ree fight.
24. Nor might a fire be lit,
Note the shrewdness of Jules in failing to light a fire.
What shows that Jamie is at the breaking point ?
4. And with it lulled the fight, as on a field, etc.
The crisis of the disease.
9. It would soon be o'er, etc.
Jules talks in sentimental vein. Sentimental people are very
often cruel. '
17. To dig a hole that might conceal a man ;
Would Jamie have resented the digging of a grave four days
Jules easily weeps. So do many insincere people.
Define: beleagured, mutability, immemorial, funerary.
The last stage of Jamie's breakdown.
Had you any doubt that Jules would beget panic in Jamie ? How
much do you blame Jamie ? Why did Le Bon take Hugh's gun, blanket,
and knife ?
Note that the last line of the first division of the poem rhymes with
the first line of the second division. Have you noticed that many times
the rhyming lines close one paragraph and open the next ? The effect
of this device is to keep the mind of the reader in strain for what is to
What is a couplet ? Is the poem written in couplets ? How is the
caesura handled in this poem ? Compare with Pope's method in
" Essay on Man."
3. But some globose immensity of blue
Note epithets in this line. How comprehensive !
7. So one late plunged into the lethal sleep, etc,
The sensation of the awakening is likened to the possible ex
perience of one in death. The author is much interested in such
Define " lethal." What literary associations with this word ?
12. The quiet steep-arched splendor of the day.
At what time of day did Hugh awake ?
2. But when he would obey, the hollow skies etc.
Note the suddenness of the loss of consciousness as expressed in
the metaphor: "the hollow skies," etc.
5. Remote unto his horizontal gaze
6. He saw the world's end kindle to a blaze etc.
At what time did Hugh re-awaken ?
What is the effect upon the reader of the expression "world's
end" rather than "east" ?
9. Dawn found the darkling reaches of his mind, etc.
A figure from archaeology. Explain.
13. Men school the dream to build the past anew
What part of speech is " school " ?
17. Wherein men talked as ghosts above a grave.
This is the second suggestion that Hugh was vaguely conscious
of what happened before his awakening.
Define : shards, torsos, rubble, sag.
NOTES I 4I
6. Sickened with torture he lay huddled there.
Note the vividness of such words as, " sickened," " torture,"
" huddled," which appeal both to muscular sense and to sight.
7. Proportioned to the might that felt the chain.
10. That vacancy about him like a wall, etc.
The power of that which yields and yet restrains suggests the
sense of helplessness that came to Hugh. This feeling is often
brought out in the later portions of the poem.
20. Grimly amused, he raised his head, etc.
What was the effect of "the empty distance" and "the twitter
of a lonely bird" on Hugh? Why question whether there was
something wrong ?
Define : collusive, bleak.
On this and the following page we have the stages by which Hugh
learns that he has been deserted. Note the steps : (i) Major Henry is
prompt, (2) many hoof prints of horses, (3) the grave known for a grave
by its shape, (4) ash heap and litter of a camp, (5) the trail.
8. Of course the horse had bolted
That is, run away.
17. A grave a grave, etc.
Does Hugh really wonder if he has been dead and has arisen ?
For the third time it is stated that Hugh heard the talk of his
comrades while he was prostrate from the bear's attack.
26. Suspicion, like a little smoky lamp etc.
Note simile. Is it effective ?
1. That daubs the murk but cannot fathom it,
Hugh's suspicions are vague as yet.
6. The smoky glow flared wildly,
What "smoky glow"?
10. A gloom-devouring ecstasy of flame,
11. A dazing conflagration of belief!
Suspicion passes to certainty. Explain the whole figure from
12. Plunged deeper than the seats of hate and grief, etc.
Does nature sometimes seem to mock our moods ? The older
literatures seem unconscious of this psychology. Note Bryant's
" Death of the Flowers."
Define : daub, grotesque, ecstasy, apathetic, complacence, con
2. His manifest betrayal by a friend
Why does the desertion of Jamie make that of others seem noth
13. Yet not as they for whom tears fall like dew etc.
Hugh's tears are not shallow; they indicate a lasting sorrow.
Those who weep easily, easily forget.
18. He lay, a gray old ruin of a man, etc.
Both physically and emotionally, a remarkable metaphor.
20. And then at length, as from the long ago, etc.
His suffering makes the time of friendship seem long ago. A
song may be both sweet and sad, as may also love.
26. ... as in a foggy night
32 1. The witchery of semilunar light, etc.
A fine comparison of the spiritual to the material.
Define : zany, retrospective.
6. As under snow the daemon of the Spring.
8. Nor might treachery recall, etc.
He had been loved, nothing could change that; he could go on
loving and nothing could change that either. This is the high
note in devotion. "If ye love them that love you, what thank
have ye ?"
16. Upon the vessel of a hope so great, etc.
The lover is only the vessel of the great passion.
21. Now, as before, collusive sky and plain etc.
Sky and plain have conspired to take Hugh's life, so it seems to
him. They represent distance that yields but still is uncon-
quered. This idea haunts the "Crawl."
1. For, after all, what thing do men desire, etc.
Food and shelter are necessary to any life ; all values rest upon
them. This idea is fundamental in modern thinking.
20. Jamie was a thief!
Why Jamie more than others ?
Define " gage."
6. And through his veins regenerating fire etc.
Anger made him strong, while grief made him weak. Is that
not true to nature ?
7. Now once again he scanned the yellow plain, etc.
Hugh projects his subjective condition on nature. This idea
occurs often in the poem. Is it a true conception ?
14. Alas for those who fondly place above, etc.
A continuation of the philosophy found on page 32. Love is the
supreme thing, not the person who is loved. The way is itself
19. A bitter-sweet narcotic to the will, etc.
Note how Hugh's hate arouses his energies. For his purposes it
is stronger than love.
Define: bellowsed, regenerating, lethargy, conspirant, merging
11. Leaning to the spring, etc.
The final horror, his face, fixes Hugh's hate to a steady, burning
purpose, seeming equal to his task.
6. That waste to be surmounted as a wall,
6. Sky-rims and yet more sky-rims steep to climb
In gazing across a vast space to the horizon, one seems to be
looking uphill. This is especially noticeable on the ocean.
7. That simulacrum of enduring Time
One traveling long distances by his own power, and having no
means of measurement, conceives space not in miles, but in
duration of effort.
8. The hundred empty miles 'twixt him and where
Why "empty" miles?
11. One hairsbreadth farther from the earth and sky
He was as remote from all things as it was possible to be, so why
not try !
The Crawl is the most detailed account of physical suffering and en
durance extant in poetry. Note the large number of words that make
direct appeal to the sensations of thirst, weariness, chronic pain, fever,
delirium. Again the sense of loneliness, of betrayal, of a conspiracy to
destroy him appears everywhere in Hugh's experience. The monotony
of the journey appears in its slowness, which is indicated in many ways.
Before describing the Crawl, Neihardt first found out what vegetable
growths would be found on the trail, the character of the soil, how the
streams would erode, etc. The poet is true to all nature, even natural
3. And through it ran the short trail to the goal.
What was the "goal" ? Ree villages lay nearly directly east.
4. Thereon a grim turnpikeman waited toll :
Who is the "grim turnpikeman" ?
7. Should make their foe the haunter of a tale.
Hugh was killed on the Yellowstone by the Rees in 1832.
9. The scoriae region of a hell burned black
The bad lands of the Little Missouri, so made to appear by spon
taneous combustion of lignite deposits.
13. Should bid for pity at the Big Horn's mouth.
Locate the Big Horn's mouth, where Henry and his men spent
the winter of 1823-1824.
2. Whereon the feeders of the Moreau head
Head waters of the Moreau. Locate the Moreau.
3. Scarce more than deep-carved runes of vernal rain.
The rune was a character in the ancient alphabet and ultimately
came to stand for poetry. Here the original meaning as a deep
cut is restored.
6. Defiant clumps of thirst embittered grass, etc.
Note how exactly the characteristics of an arid landscape are
set forth in such phrases as "thirst embittered grass," "parched
earth," "bared and fang-like roots," "dwarf thickets," "stunted
fruits." The poet is shown by exactness, not inaccuracy.
16. And made the scabrous gulch appear to shake
The very sound of the word "scabrous" suggests dryness.
20. And where the mottled shadow dripped as ink etc.
The shadow of leaves on the yellow earth is black. The descrip
tion is absolutely accurate. "A poet is known by his epithets."
3. Amid ironic heavens in the West
Why "ironic heavens " ?
6. A purpling panorama swept away.
7. Scarce farther than a shout might carry
How far had Hugh traveled in the day ?
16. Into the quiet house of no false friend.
What "quiet house" ?
17-20. Alas for those who seek a journey's end etc.
The philosophy of these lines is that the way is the important
thing, not the end. This is a part of Neihardt's life-philosophy.
21. Now swoopingly the world of dream broke through
Note that no two of Hugh's dreams are alike. In this dream his
revenge is futile. Is that the nature of revenge, to defeat itself?
How many lines are taken to tell this dream ? How much in
little space !
1. Gazing far, etc.
Another remarkable description of the sky and prairie and their
effect upon Hugh.
Make a list of epithets descriptive of both sky and prairie as
you find them on pages 26-27-28-29-30-32-34-36-39. Epithets
may be adjectives or verbs or nouns. Such are "globose im
mensity," "smoky steep," "serene antagonist," "negativity of
9. Seemed that vast negativity of might; etc.
In what sense is the might of distance negative ?
What was the "frustrate vision of the night" ?
What does the poet mean by saying it came "moonwise" ?
What is Hugh's mood when he feels that the foe is "naught but
yielding air " ?
13. A vacancy to fill with his intent !
What is the grammatical construction of "to fill" ?
15. Three-footed ; and the vision goaded him.
What vision "goaded him" ?
24. Served but to brew more venom for his hate,
Why is hate spoken of as venomous ? What has modern Physi
ology to say of this ?
25. And nerved him to avail the most with least.
What is meant by "avail the most with least" ?
10. Devoured the chance-flung manna of the plains
"Manna" what is the reference ?
18. The coulee deepened ; yellow walls flung high, etc.
Accurate description of arid conditions by their effect on Hugh.
6. It had the acrid tang of broken trust
7. The sweetish, tepid taste of feigning love !
A projection of the subjective into the objective.
14. Clear as a friend's heart, 'twas, and seeming cool
The same as above.
22. And lo, the tang of that wide insolence
23. Of sky and plain was acrid in the draught !
Note again the attitude of nature, as Hugh sees it, in its "wide
25. How like fine sentiment the mirrored sky etc.
The cruelty of sentimentalism. Note on this page the steps by
which the sense of thirst is induced in the reader and the cor
responding disappointment increased; "dry as strewn bones
bleaching to a desert sky," " grateful ooze, " "sucked the mud,"
"sweetish, tepid taste," "taunted thirst," "damp spots," then
the description of the pool and the "famished horses." Is not
the reader as thirsty as Hugh and nearly as keenly disappointed ?
8. Nor did he rise till, vague with stellar light, etc.
Compare with Bryant's " Forest Hymn."
At what line does Hugh fall asleep ? At what line does he begin
to awake ? How many days since "The Crawl" began ?
17. And Hugh lay gazing till the whole resolved etc.
What is the difference between this dream and that of the previous
night? Why? Does Hugh still love Jamie? Would he kill
him in such a mood ? How many lines in the dream ?
Define: specious, gulch, buttressing, Host, nave, architrave.
, NOTES 149
Hugh has not yet reached the prairie on the divide between the Grand
and the Moreau, though he has journeyed two days. How far do you
think he has crawled ?
3. Loath to go, Hugh lay beside the pool and pondered fate, etc.
Why is Hugh less eager to renew his journey than on the previous
morning ? Do you suppose his dream had anything to do with
the matter ? His weariness ?
11. Sustaining wrath returning with the toil.
Why does wrath return ?
23. Of strength that had so very much to buy.
What had his strength "to buy" ?
Define : efface, cauldron.
11. Sleep out the glare. With groping hands for sight,
Hugh sleeps on the afternoon of the third day of his journey.
Explain "groping hands for sight."
14. Or sensed the dusky mystery of plain.
Why dusky mystery ? Can you see a prairie by starlight ?
16. Gazing aloft, he found the capsized Wain
"Capsized Wain," Bear. What time of night?
16-17. Thereto he set his back;
What direction did he take ? How much knowledge of the con
stellations must have meant to primitive men ! To sailors ! To
hunters! Read Bryant's "Hymn to the North Star."
19. The star-blanched summit of a lonely butte
20. And thitherward he dragged his heavy limb.
Note the butte used to guide the crawler. Could a plainsman
see a butte by starlight ? Could a " tenderfoot " ?
21. It seemed naught moved, etc.
The movement on a prairie and in the night seems objectless
It gives a supreme sense of monotony. Time stopped. We
measure time by events ; no events, no time.
Define : blanched, incipient.
4. Sheer deep upon unfathomable deep, etc.
A curious but vivid figure, expressing a sense of darkness and un
8. So lapsed the drowsy aeon of the night
The monotony makes the hours seem a moment drawn out.
10. And then, as quickened to somnambulance, etc.
Note the steps of the dawning, and the suddenness of the coming
of day. The description is not only vivid but accurate.
20. Scarce had he munched the hoarded roots, when came etc.
Why the difference between this and previous dreams ?
Define " tensile."
8. It was the hour when cattle straggle home etc.
A fine lyric. This is one of many memory pictures of Hugh's
travels. Nothing in the poem tells directly of Hugh's past.
This silence suggests tragedy dimly illumined by the memory
pictures. Is Hugh an imaginative man ? Enumerate the eve
ning sounds. Note the steps marking the transition from evening
to night. How many days has Hugh crawled ? Hugh is known
to have been a Pennsylvanian of Scotch descent.
Define " peripheries."
" PAGE 48
1. Blank as the face of fate. -In listless mood etc.
Fate is associated with the inevitable and unrevealed. "In list
less mood " etc. the end of a day of feverish dreams finds
Hugh weakened and caring less to live.
3. And met the night. The new moon, low and far, etc.
Note the phase of the moon.
7. The kiote voiced the universal lack.
8. As from a nether fire, the plain gave back
9. The swelter of the noon-glare to the gloom.
The heat of the prairie is often very noticeable after sunset.
12. Why seek some further nowhere on the plain ?
What "nowhere" ?
14. So spoke some loose-lipped spirit of despair;
15. And still Hugh moved, volitionless a weight, etc.
Volitionless The power of habit is compared to that of the moon
over the tides.
18. Now when the night wore on in middle swoon,
21. To breathe became an act of conscious will.
22. The starry waste was ominously still.
24. As through a tunnel in the atmosphere
Note the steps of the coming storm : middle swoon, a drowsy night,
stifling condition of the air, utter silence with sense of impending
disaster, as through a tunnel, etc.
The description of the storm is exact to the minutest detail. It
is not interspersed with more or less sentimental comments as
is Byron's description of the storm on the Alps (Childe Harold,
Canto III), yet it gains in power by its adherence to truth.
4. An oily film seemed spread upon the sky
"Storm still approaching. "The oily film," the gradual darken
ing of the atmosphere.
9. Upon hell's burlesque sabbath for the lost,
What could be more hopeless than "Sabbath in Hell" ?
12. Hugh chose not, yet he crawled ;
Habit keeps him moving.
13. He felt the futile strife was nearly o'er.
Hugh will die unless relief comes.
14. And as he went, a muffled rumbling grew,
Far away thunder, the next step in the approach of the storm.
16. Somehow 'twas coextensive with his thirst,
Confusion of objective and subjective, a not uncommon ex
perience of extreme weakness.
12. Star-hungry, ranged in regular array, etc.
Note the use of constellations to indicate the vast expanse and
swift movement of the cloud ; another illustration of the poet's
power to see things in the large. Locate the constellations named.
Explain the figure, "star-hungry."
19. Deep in the further murk sheet-lightning flared.
Sheet-lightning covering the sky like a sheet, sometimes called
heat lightning a common phenomenon in prairie storms.
24. What turmoil now ? Lo, ragged columns hurled, etc.
Explain "ragged columns."
2. Along the solid rear a dull boom runs !
Explain "solid rear."
11. Reveals the butte-top tall and lonely there
12. Like some gray prophet contemplating doom.
The second time the butte has been described.
16. Ghosts of the ancient forest or old rain, etc.
Geology tells us that these plains were once covered with forests.
19. That e'er evolving, ne'er resolving sound
20. Gropes in the stifling hollow of the night.
Never fully developing. " Evolving," " resolving " technical
expressions in music.
The rush of the rain, the constant flare of lightning, the sudden cessa
tion, as well as the slow and dread beginning, are characteristic of storms
in semi-arid countries. This poem reveals every phase of nature on the
prairies and none more vividly than the storm.
Define: hurtling, wassail, sardonic, flaw, ravin, murk, cosmic,
3. The butte soared, like a soul serene and white
4. Because of the katharsis of the night.
The butte appears again, this time as the symbol of a soul that
has struggled and triumphed. The principle of Katharsis, puri
fication, is a principle of the Greek drama as worked out by
Aristotle. To what degree is it a principle of life ?
6. All day Hugh fought with sleep and struggled on
Which day ? Why does Hugh no longer travel at night ?
16. Hope flared in Hugh, until the memory came
17. Of him who robbed a sleeping friend and fled.
18. Then hate and hunger merged ; etc.
Note again that Hugh finds Jamie's treachery everywhere. It is
an obsession with him.
Define " amethyst."
How many days has Hugh crawled ? How far has he journeyed ?
5. Swooped by. The dream of crawling and the act etc.
An appeal to the muscular sense.
Such dreams bespeak extreme weariness.
8. The butte, outstripped at eventide, now seemed etc.
The butte now becomes the measure of a progress infinitely slow,
a source of discouragement.
13. Whose hand-in-pocket saunter kept the pace.
Why "hand-in-pocket" ?
16. What rest and plenty on the other side !
Hugh must have encouragement. The break in the prairie, the
crest of the divide, furnishes that. Explain the psychology. How
far is the divide from the Grand ?
20. All day it seemed that distant Pisgah Height
Define " lush."
Hugh is near to starvation. The adventure with the gopher goes
from waking reality to dream on the following night and to waking dream
the next day, revealing how sick Hugh had become.
10. The battered gray face leered etc.
Note that the vivid picture of the face of Hugh is secured by the
choice of a few meaningful words, battered, leered, slaver, an
13. Evolvjng twilight hovered to a pause
The twilight pause means what ?
18. Hugh jerked the yarn. It broke.
Note the brevity of the climax, " It broke."
19. Down swooped the night,
How many days of journeying ? The dream is a nightmare
while the previous one was relatively peaceful. Why the dif
3. Woke hordes of laughers down the giddy yawn
What "hordes of laughers"?
6. Dream dawn, dream-noon, dream-twilight!
Night and day are "telescoped" for Hugh by the monotony of
crawling either awake or in dreams and never getting anywhere.
17. Dream-dawn, dream-noon, dream-night ! And still obsessed
Why the repetition ?
18. By that one dream more clamorous than the rest,
What is the one dream ? Why is it a dream ?
Define : gully, turbid, relict.
3. Yet had the pleasant lie befriended him,
4. And now the brutal fact had come to stare.
What was the "pleasant lie" ? The brutal fact ?
7. And nursed that deadly adder of the soul,
8. Self-pity. Let the crows swoop down and feed, etc.
Sentimentalism is soul-flabbiness.
15. And lo, a finger-nail, etc.
The accumulation of great results by infinitesimal accretions is
one of the everlasting surprises in life.
21. So fare the wise on Pisgah.
How do the wise use their Pisgahs ? To enjoy or to inspire to
further effort ?
Define : fa^ture, dwarfed, Titan, triumvirate.
2. Some higher Hugh observed the bas^r part.
What was the higher, what the baser part ?
3. So sits the artist throned above his art, etc.
The hurt is nothing, the achievement is all. No man who is
worth anything but counts his work as more than all else.
6. It seemed the wrinkled hills pressed in to stare, etc.
The manifestations of nature become Hugh's audience and he
falls into the throes of composition. Most of our thinking is in
words uttered to persons present, absent, or imagined.
11. So wrought the old evangel of high daring, etc.
The true philosophy of life, to be a "victor in the moment."
23. That day the wild gsese flew
What is the effect of their cries ? Describe the appearance of
Define: recks, travail, evangel.
Present, past and fancy are all mingled in Hugh's experiences this day,
showing his weakened condition, and the feeling for Jamie obsesses him.
9. Hate slept that day,.
Was it hate or an inversion of love ?
18. At last the buzzard beak no longer tore
What "buzzard beak"?
Define: lethargy, maudlin.
NOTES i S7
4. And now serenely beautiful etc. j
These lines were suggested to the author by a picture, "The
Death of Absalom."
6. Thus vexed with doleful whims the crawler went etc.
Hugh would have died at this time had he not drifted into the
11. Told how the gray-winged gale blew out the day.
Why " gray-winged " ?
20. It seemed no wind had ever come that way,
21. Nor sound dwelt there, nor echo found the place.
How is utter quiet expressed !
7. Returning hunger bade him rise; in vain
8. He struggled with a fine-spun mesh of pain etc.
An appeal to muscular sense.
16. In that hip-wound he had for Jamie's sake
That "hip-wound" brings back the desire for revenge, a close
association of ideas. Have you had such experiences ?
19. Was turned again with every puckering twinge.
"Puckering twinge," another appeal to muscular sense.
20. Far down the vale a narrow winding fringe etc.
Having passed the divide Hugh slept at the head of a valley that
farther down becomes the bed of a little creek flowing into the
Define: mesh, trammelled, puckering, betokened.
6. These two, as comrades, struggled south together
Contrast the two "comrades," each journeying to the many
fathomed peace, one consumed with "lust to kill," the other
singing on the way. A bit of wise philosophy is suggested.
9. And one went crooning of the moon-wooed vast ;
What is the "moon-wooed vast" and to what is it compared ?
12. All streams ran thin ; and when he pressed a hand etc.
Why did he do this ?
20. Far-spread, shade-dimpled in the level glow,
Another of many sunset pictures in the poem and no two are alike.
"Far-spread, shade-dimpled in the level glow," a prairie sunset
in one line.
24. Hugh saw what seemed the tempest of a dream
Why a "dream" tempest ?
Define : phasic, weather-breeding.
3. A dust cloud deepened down the dwindling river;
4. Upon the distant tree-tops ran a shiver etc.
Note the pictures suggested in "dust cloud deepened," "upon
the distant tree-tops ran a shiver," "huddle thickets writhed,"
"green gloom gapes," "mill and wrangle in a turbid flow."
13. Bound for the winter pastures of the Platte !
The Platte was an especially fine bison country.
17. The lopped moon weltered in the dust-bleared East.
How long since Hugh began his journey ?
18. Sleep came and gave a Barmecidal feast.
In the Arabian Nights one of the Barmecides, a wealthy family,
NOTES 1 59
served a beggar a pretended feast on beautiful dishes that were
19. About a merry flame were simmering etc.
The appeal to the sense of hunger is powerful. Compare Vergil,
^Eneid, Book I, 210-215.
21. And tender tongues that never tasted snow,
Why "never tasted snow" ?
2. So sounds a freshet when the banks are full etc.
Note comparison of the movement of the herd to a swollen river
clogged by debris.
8. Through which the wolves in doleful tenson tossed
Tenson : among the troubadours a contest between two singers.
9. From hill to hill the ancient hunger-song.
Hunger is the oldest form of suffering, and prayer for food the
16. With some gray beast that fought with icy fang.
Why "icy" fang ? "white world" ?
Define : eerie, myriads.
8. The herd would pass and vanish in the night
How long was the herd in passing ?
During this time, and for fifty years thereafter, bison herds often
covered the plains as far as the eye could see. In the 6o's
travellers on the old Oregon trail often journeyed through one
solid herd for as much as three days, and on either side the
prairie was filled to the horizon.
23. So might a child assail the crowding sea !
The comparison of the on-rushing herd to high sea tide, notable
in itself, is greatly strengthened by the comparison of Hugh to
a child assaulting the waters. Note the impulse of the defeated
to act in absurd ways. Note the epithet, " crowding."
2. Slept till the white of morning o'er the hill
3. Was like a whisper groping in a hush.
The comparison of light to sound, "the white of morning like a
whisper," is unusual but true.
4. The stream's low trill seemed loud.
Why seemed the low trill loud ?
9. Smacked of the autumn, and a heavy dew etc.
What association of sensations brings the picture of the autumn
Note how quickly the vision passed, an illustration of the author's
power of concentration. Hugh was born in Pennsylvania. What
was his father's business ? How do you know from this and
other passages? See the lyrical passage on page 47.
15. He brooded on the mockeries of Chance,
On page 58 we saw Hugh in the act of literary composition; now
we see him a philosopher. This is a common fact among what
we call the "common" people. Note the grave-digger scene in
Hamlet, Act V.
Define : smacksd, hoar, frore.
1. Revealed the havoc of the living flood, etc.
Point out each word and statement that pictures the havoc
wrought in the valley by the herd.
9. A food-devouring plethora of food
Devouring what food ? What plethora?
10. Had come to make a starving solitude !
What idea is modified by the word "starving" ?
16. That still the weak might perish.
Express this idea in other terms. Note unusual use of the word
" still." State the biological " law of evolution."
24. Within himself the oldest cause of war
What is the "oldest cause of war" ? The newest ?
Define : plethora, raucous, guerdon.
8. He saw a bison carcass black with crows, etc.
This picture is unique, cruel, almost revolting, but wonderfully
18. To die contending with a living foe,
19. Than fight the yielding distance and the lack.
To engage in a short struggle with a visible foe with a definite
end near and certain is far easier than to endure the long drawn
and indefinite. This is because man is primarily well equipped
for the immediate struggle of hunting and war, but is not gifted
by nature with power to endure.
6. The wolf's a coward, who, in goodly packs, etc.
The wolf pack symbolizes the mob. The law of mob life is
cruelty, and cruelty is always cowardly.
10. How some great beast that shambled like a bear
Why "shambled like a bear"?
24. Woe in the silken meshes of the friend,
26. Weal in the might and menace of the foe.
The friend often weakens his friend. The opposition of the
enemy develops his strength.
Define : lacerated, vituperative, prodigious, frenzy, weal.
14. When sleep is weirdest and a moment's flight,
Dreams often come just before waking.
20. Hoof-smitten leagues consuming in a dust.
What is the syntax of " leagues " ? Explain the line.
23. A corpse, yet heard the muffled parleying etc.
Note how the idea that he was really dead haunts Hugh both
sleeping and waking. Find other places in the poem where this
3. The babble flattened to a blur of gray
A comparison of sound to light.
16. Could they be the Sioux ?
The Sioux had been allies in the Leavenworth Campaign, while
the Rees were enemies. Note page i.
Note on this page the vivid picture of the Indians riding in the
24. The outflung feelers of a tribe a-stir
Meaning of "feelers"?
8. And wasna !
Bison meat, shredded, dried, and mixed with bison tallow and
dried bullberries, the mixture being packed in bladders.
11. But kinsman of the blood of daring men.
Actual "blood brotherhood" between Indian and White was not
uncommon and bravery and loyalty were the basis of such re
13. O Friend-Betrayer at the Big Horn's mouth, etc.
Note how Hugh's imagination rushes on to the killing of Jamie.
17. From where a cloud of startled blackbirds rose
What startles the blackbirds ?
Note on this page, and the next, various hints of the coming of
the Indians and how important the matter was to the starving
watcher from the bluff.
20. Embroiled the parliament of feathered shrews ?
What are the "feathered shrews"?
22. Flackering strepent ; now a sooty shower, etc.
"Flackering strepent" fluttering and noisy, a fitting descrip
tion of the startled flock; onomatopoeia.
The entire picture of the blackbirds is notable. They are a
"boiling cloud," "a sooty shower," with big flakes and driven
by a squall, they are "cold black fire." All these terms are
startling but exact.
Define: parfleche, panniers, maize, parliament, shrews.
4. What augury in orniscopic words
6. Did yon swart sibyls on the morning scrawl ?
A rhetorical question to indicate the dread interest Hugh felt
in the question "Sioux or Ree?"
Note the fancy that words are written on the sky.
13. In their van
14. Aloof and lonely rode a gnarled old man etc.
"Gnarled" like a tree. A most vivid picture of Elk Tongue, a
famous Ree chief.
16. Beneath his heavy years, yet haughtily
17. He wore them like the purple of a king.
His great age is like a royal robe. "Gray hairs are a crown of
18. Keen for a goal, as from the driving string etc.
In how many and significant ways his face is described in these
lines : keen for a goal, like a flinty arrow-head, with a brooding
stare. Directions for a statue could scarcely be more exact or
more full of suggestion.
Define : ruck, augury, orniscopic, swart, sibyl, attenuated; gnarled,
Read the entire description of the Indians at one sitting and get the
12. Such foeman as no warrior ever slew.
18. And hurled them shivering back upon the beast.
According to the Greek myth men were little better than beasts
until Prometheus brought fire to them from heaven in a reed.
How nearly does the myth accord with truth ?
21. Hope fed them with a dream of buffalo etc.
With primitive man feast and famine were often close together.
23. Home with their Pawnee cousins on the Platte,
Locate the Platte. The Rees and Pawnees speak the same
tongue with slight variations.
Define " ravelled."
2. The rich-in-ponies rode, etc.
The first scene in the moving picture shows the contrast of rich
and poor that existed even in the most primitive society.
3. F'or much is light and little is a load etc.
What is meant ? The sentence is a paradox.
10. Whining because the milk they got was thinned etc.
The squaws with their crying babies are the material of the
second scene, followed by the striplings.
14. How fair life is beyond the beckoning blue, etc.
"Distance lends enchantment."
15. Cold-eyed the grandsires plodded, for they knew, etc.
Note contrasting words : striplings, grandsires; strutted, plodded.
One group saw visions, the other was disillusioned.
17. In what lone land.
What is meant?
20. Stooped to the fancied burden of the race;
What is the "burden of the race" ?
26. The lean cayuses toiled.
Cayuse, a broncho, originally one bred by the Cayuse Indians.
27. To see a world flow by on either side,
How does the world "flow by" ?
The dog was an ever present feature of Indian life. Note the author's
familiarity with the dog.
12. Yielded to the squaws'
13. Inverted mercy and a slow-won grave.
"The female of the species is more deadly than the male." Why ?
For the sake of the protection of the young. Indian fighters
had a special horror of falling into the hands of the squaws.
Hate and love are opposite sides of the same shield. In propor
tion as woman loves her children and the protectors of them she
hates anybody and anything that menaces them.
14. Since Earth's first mother scolded from a cave
A true picture of social origins.
17. To match the deadly venom brewed above
18. The lean, blue, blinding heart-fires of her love.
Note the witches' cauldron that bubbles here and the fire that
burns below it.
20. But thrice three seasons yet should swell the past, etc.
Glass was killed by the Rees in 1832.
21. So was it writ, ere Fate's keen harriers etc.
Why is Fate capitalized ?
Define : palimpsest, harriers.
3. For that weird pass whereto the fleet are slow,
The fleet are the young, but the old reach the "weird pass" first.
16. Scarce had he crossed the open flat, and won etc.
On this page and the next we have the temptation of Hugh to
kill the squaw, (a) Do you feel that Hugh will kill her ? (b) Would
he be justified in so doing ? (c) Would you be satisfied to have
the hero of the story slay a weak old woman, though an Indian ?
Whom does Hugh see sitting haloed like a saint ? (page 79)
What impression on Hugh does the whole adventure make ?
3. He reached a river. Leaning to a pool etc.
Was the reaction against his own pity natural ?
14. That somehow some sly Jamie of a dream
16. Had plundered him again ;
Again the obsession concerning Jamie. There seems a sugges
tion of insanity in this. Is the pursuit of vengeance always in
18. Now when the eve in many-shaded grays etc.
Another prairie sunset. Note that every description of the
prairie is woven directly into the story. No two are alike.
21. Hugh paused perplexed. Elusive, haunting, dim, etc.
A comparison of pure sense to- pure idea is unusual but true, for
ideas rest upon sense perception.
Define : crone, fleered.
PAGE 8 1
4. It seemed the sweet
6. Allure of home.
Association by sense of smell smoke, fire, home in the evening.
12. Hearth-lit within, its windows were as eyes etc.
The comparison of an old farmhouse to an old mother. Point
out pathos in each.
21. A two-tongued herald wooing hope and fear,
Meaning? Compare ^Eneid, Book I, 661.
Select a lyric from this page.
Define : troll, recrudescent.
2. And reached a bluff's top. In a smudge of red etc.
Another sunset picture. Where were the "pools of gloom"?
How comes the " mottled " effect ?
10. He lay upon the bare height, fagged, forlorn,
Hugh is again near to collapse.
17. Then with a start etc.
How well the first stage of the finding and appropriation of fire
has been pictured as the effect of smell ! Now comes the second
stage. The whole incident epitomizes in wonderful way the
meaning of fire to mankind. Note the beauty of the comparison
of the flame to a lily.
Define : mottled, pluming.
4. With pounding heart Hugh crawled along the height
Why "with pounding heart" ?
16. Keen to possess once more the ancient gift.
Of Prometheus to man.
Define : doddering, burgeoning, tenuous.
1. Arose, and made an altar of the place.
Fire worship is as old as the race. Hugh is the priest, the East
Wind a religious novice who sings in the ceremonials, the night
is the temple, and in response to the worship, "Conjuries of
interwoven breath," the fire god appears in the burning wood.
6. The Wind became a chanting acolyte.
Why have an East Wind ?
10. Once more the freightage of the fennel rod
Prometheus used a fennel rod to bring fire to mortals.
11. Dissolved the chilling pall of Jovia-n scorn.
Jove despised men and refused them fire.
13. The face apocalyptic, and the sword
14. The glory of the many-symboled Lord
17. Voiced with the sound of many waters,
All this is from Revelations, Chapter I.
Define : acolyte, epiphanic.
> . ...
11. Then set about to view an empty camp
12. As once before, etc.
See pages 29 and 30.
1. Among the ash-heaps ; and the lean dogs ran
2. And barked about him, for the love of man etc.
Some one has said that the dog was a candidate for humanity
and just missed it.
8. For 'tis the little gifts of grudging Chance,
9. Well husbanded, make victors.
This is a principle of economy often illustrated.
18. Scarce more of marvel and the sense of might, etc.
Tennyson makes poetry out of a miraculous sword, Neihardt
out of a man-made knife. One is romanticism, the other realism.
Which is more poetic ?
1. Not having, but the measure of desire etc.
"A man's riches consist of what he can do without." Socrates
taught this philosophy.
2. Who gaining more, seek most, etc.
7. That twain wherewith Time put the brute to school,
Who was the "brute" ? How " put to school " ?
6. What gage of mastery in fire and tool !
The control of fire was the first great step in civilization and
someone has said that the invention of the bow and arrow wrought
greater changes in human life than any other invention. By
enabling man to kill at a greater range it increased his supply
of meat and so made it possible to live in larger groups.
Why didn't Hugh roast the dog instead of boiling ? Note details of
preparation. Hugh ate the entire dog. Two starved Indian hunters
have been known to eat the whole carcass of a deer at one sitting.
13. Hugh slept. And then as divers, mounting, sunder etc.
A vivid expression of a common experience on waking from es
pecially profound sleep.
Define : bulimic, gage.
3. And was the friendlike fire a Jamie too ? etc.
The natural return of a monomania.
12. The sting of that antiquity of pain
After a long rest, his former suffering seemed ancient.
14. That yielding victor, fleet in being slow
Always more space to be conquered, hence slow and certain to
win over Hugh.
16. So readily the tentacles of sense, etc.
Thinkers are just beginning to realize something of the hypnotic
power of habit and custom in the individual and in society. The
loss of the accustomed may disintegrate the life. Our author
shows keen understanding when he likens the effect upon Hugh
of the loss of fire to that of the loss of a dear one by death. A
moment ago he was here, vital, real. Now he is gone. How
strange is the world without him !
7. A yelping of the dogs among the bluffs, etc.
The one sound in the desolate night, the yelping of the dogs,
starts a train of ideas. The power of abstraction has made man
able to survive where less intelligent forms have perished.
Flint can be used to skin a dog, so can steel, the two smitten to
gether make fire, so Hugh found his "unlocked door to life."
22. Spilled on it from the smitten stone a shower
23. Of ruddy seed ; and saw the mystic flower
24. That genders its own summer, bloom anew !
Explain the metaphor.
An absolutely new figure regarding fire.
10. Set laggard singers snatching at the tune.
What "laggard singers"?
13. And, pitching voices to the timeless woe,
Life fundamentally sad.
14. Outwailed the lilting. So the Chorus sings etc.
In the Greek theater the Chorus sang after the actor had spoken,
always taking an opposite tone. So Hugh's joyous song is
drowned in the wailing of the dogs.
8. He hobbled now along a withered rill etc.
Note the quiet of the autumn spell over the secluded place, and
the onomatopoeia indicating the falling of the plums and whisper
ing leaves ; also the crying of the lonesome dog that makes the
stillness more intense and sad.
10. A cyclopean portal yawning sheer.
"Cyclopean portal," Homer's Odyssey.
26. Above the sunset like a stygian boat,
The boat of Charon on the Styx, the river of the underworld.
1. The new moon bore the spectre of the old,
3. The valley of the tortuous Cheyenne.
Locate the Cheyenne.
4. And ere the half moon sailed the night again, etc.
How long since Hugh left the forks of the Grand ?
17. Grown Atlantean in the wrestler's craft.
Read "The River and I," Chapter I, by the same author, to get
his feeling for the Missouri.
THE RETURN OF THE GHOST
1. Not long Hugh let the lust of vengeance gnaw
Note that the first line of the division of the poem rhymes with
the last line of the former. How often does this happen in the
poem ? This device keeps the mind on a stretch and so keeps
interest alive. The same device is often used by the author in
passing from one paragraph to the next.
6. I can not rest ; for I am but the ghost etc.
The old obsession that he actually died by the Grand, though
here used less seriously than in other places.
12. With such a blizzard of a face for me !
The epithet reveals how Hugh's gray "ruined face" impressed
13. For he went grayer like a poplar tree, etc.
The simile of the face of Glass in mentioning Jamie's treachery
and the poplar tree shaken by the first wind of a storm is true
to nature, for a poplar turns the gray side of its leaves when
Define : fend, kenneled.
1. From where the year's last keelboat hove in view
The keelboat, shaped with keel and hence so called, from forty
to sixty feet long, carrying as much as sixty tons and pulled by
fifteen to twenty-five men, was used on the Missouri and other
navigable rivers before the day of the steamboat.
10. Until the tipsy Bourgeois bawled for Glass
The head of a trading post in the fur trading period was called
Bourgeois, a French word meaning tradesman.
12. The graybeard, sitting where the light was blear, etc.
The whole account of Hugh's telling of this great tragedy is of
the highest excellence. We already know that Hugh is a story
teller; we have seen him composing this very tale (page 58), and
we know how his imagination sometimes carries him beyond the
actual, as when he saw Jamie dead (page 60). The effect of his
face, with its changing expressions suiting all the moods as
sociated with love and betrayal, his chanting songlike tones, is
shown in the muscular responses of the listeners and their shudders
when the story ends. The supreme touch comes when Hugh
tells of the slaying of Jamie as if already done.
19. And his the purpose that is art's, etc.
To centre attention on human experience at the crucial moment
and so render it immortal.
20. Whereby men make a vintage of their hearts etc.
Turn sorrow into beauty. Is there comfort in a sad story well
Select the lines on this page that convey a sense of monotony.
16. Past where the tawny Titan gulps the cup
Titan, the Missouri.
22. And there old times came mightily on Hugh, etc.
Do you believe Hugh capable now of killing Jamie ?
24. Some troubled glory of that wind-tossed hair
Hugh's memory of Jamie is sad, not bitter.
Define : cutbank, wry, tawny.
2. So haunted with the blue of Jamie's eyes, etc.
The blue is sad but not treacherous as once.
8. Past where the Cannon Ball and Heart come in
Locate the Cannon Ball and the Heart.
18. The chaining of the Titan. Drift ice ran.
The story of the freezing of the river is worth noting for its vivid
ness, its alliterations and onomatopoeia.
19. The winged hounds of Winter ceased to bay.
What were the "winged hounds" ?
5. To wait the far-off Heraclean thaw,
Heraclean Hercules. What chained Titan did Hercules re
12. His purpose called him at the Big Horn's mouth
Locate the Big Horn. What purpose ? Who was there ?
18. And took the bare, foot-sounding solitude
Why "foot-sounding" ?
22. He seemed indeed a fugitive from Death etc.
Another reference to Hugh's fancy that he had actually died.
It gives added force to that fancy to make his frosted breath
suggest a shroud.
24. Now the moon was young
Note the phase of the moon for later reference.
6. With Spring's wild rage, the snow-born Titan girl, etc.
The Yellowstone is larger at the junction than is the Missouri.
Hence the Missouri is the Titan girl rushing into the arms of her
lover. But in the winter with snow covering the ice, "A wind
ing sheet was on the marriage bed." Why " snow-born " ?
15. Gray void seemed suddenly astir with wings etc.
Note onomatopoeia in the lines indicating that snow begins to
1. The bluffs loomed eerie, and the scanty trees
Describe the appearance of the trees.
15. The tumbling snowflakes sighing all arouryl,
What associations brought Hugh a dream of boyhood ?
1 76 NOTES
18. The Southwind in the touseled apple trees
19. And slumber flowing from their leafy gloom.
These lines are an intentional "literary echoing" of one of the
most beautiful of the Sapphic fragments, fragment 4 in Bergk's
Define : penumbral, susurrant.
The blizzard is a storm characteristic of the plains. It generally
lasts three days, is terribly cold, and the whirling snow is blinding.
4. Black blindness grew white blindness
Indicating the slight difference between night and day.
Note in how few lines the poet pictures the passing of the day.
5. All being now seemed narrowed to a span, etc.
All else was shut from sight and to a degree from the mind.
7. As with the waning day the great wind fell.
The sudden cessation of the wind at the close of the third day of
the storm is characteristic, as is also the intense cold. Forty
degrees below zero is not unusual, often even fifty degrees.
10. When, heifer-horned, the maiden moon lies down
A reference to the maiden Diana, goddess of the moon.
How long was Hugh on this journey ?
3. Yon sprawling shadow, pied with candle-glow etc.
Another of the gripping memory pictures. Can a man who
dreams such a waking dream kill another, even one who has
betrayed him, in cold blood ?
21. Or was this but the fretted wraith of Hugh etc.
The feeling that he is a ghost comes to Hugh twice in this incident
of finding the fort. His long journey, his weakened physical
condition and his exhausted emotions combine to make life seem
14. Joy filled a hush twixt heart-beats like a bird ; etc.
Joy rather than anger comes first in his feeling about Jamie.
That is significant.
PAGE 1 06
7. "My God ! I saw the Old Man's ghost out there !"
Belief in ghosts was common among the trappers.
12-21. "Hugh strove to shout," etc.
For the last time we see Hugh with the feeling that he is dead.
Are you surprised that Hugh does not kill Le Bon ? Would you ex
cuse the deed if he had ?
Locate the Country of the Crows (Absaroka), the Big Horn, the
Powder, Fort Atkinson.
PAGE 1 10
16. Now up the Powder, etc.
Trace the journey on the map.
Locate the Laramie.
2. The Niobrara races for the morn
Locate the Niobrara. It is a very swift stream. Note the entire
description of the coming of spring on the prairie. It is a lyric
and includes a description of both late and early<oming of spring.
3. Here at length was born
Upon the southern slopes the baby spring, etc.
A slow spring.
6. Not such as when announced by thunder-claps etc.
A description of a swiftly coming spring.
9. Clad splendidly as never Sheba's Queen,
Sheba's Queen The Bible, ist Kings.
15. And no root dreamed what Triumph-over-Death
16. Was nurtured now in some bleak Nazareth, etc.
The coming of spring suggests the resurrection.
19. And everywhere the Odic Presence dwelt.
"Odic": from " od," an arbitrary scientific term signifying the
mysterious vital force in nature.
21. And when they reached the valley of the Snake,
Locate the Snake.
22. The Niobrara' s ice began to break,
The next step in the coming of spring.
4. The geese went over,
A sure sign that spring is almost come.
6. The little river of Keyapaha
Locate the Keyapaha.
10. To where the headlong Niobrara etc.
Locate the mouth of the Niobrara. A student in one of my
classes once wrote an interesting essay telling how her father's
farm had been swept away by the rushing of the Niobrara into
the Missouri at the spring flood. At such times the smaller
river hurls the Missouri as much as a mile beyond its normal
13. A giant staggered by a pigmy's sling.
What Bible story is here referred to ?
18. There all the vernal wonder-work was done : etc.
From here on select the color words that give the picture of the
progress of spring. Another lyric.
2.4. Of wizard-timber and of wonder stuff etc.
Are day dreams built of "wizard timber and of wonder-stuff" ?
Note the alliteration.
1. Into the North, a devil-ridden man.
The first picture of Jamie since he deserted Hugh. Will it arouse
13. Up the long watery stairway to the Horn,
What is the "watery stairway to the Horn"? Horn Big
14. And the year was shorn e^tc.
How long is it since the story opened ?
Note the entire description of the coming of autumn.
19. That withered in the endless martyrdom
20. The scarlet quickened on the plum etc.
Note the steps of the coming of autumn at the Heart, among the
Mandans, at the Yellowstone, the Powder.
1. Was spattered with the blood of Summer slain.
A remarkable figure.
8. Aye, one who seemed to stare upon a ghost etc.
A second picture of Jamie's suffering.
14. And to forgive and to forget were sweet : etc.
There will be no murder; our interest now is that the men may
meet and in the manner of reconciliation.
15. 'Tis for its nurse etc.
Explain. Is this not true ?
20. But at the crossing of the Rosebud's mouth
Locate the Rosebud.
3. Alas, the journey back to yesterwhiles ! etc.
There is no going back to the old days.
13. He came with those to where the Poplar joins etc.
Locate the Poplar.
22. From Mississippi to the Great Divide
Locate the Great Divide.
6. Upon Milk River valley,
Locate Milk River.
7. Above the Piegan lodges,
Piegans one of the principal divisions of the Blackfoot tribe
of Indians. Locate the Piegan village.
7. Lest on the sunset trail slow feet should err.
What is the "sunset trail " ?
16. You saw no Black Robe ?
Black Robe, priest, so-called by all Indians.
18. "Heaped snow sharp stars a kiote on the rise."
The answer is true to the laconic Indian speech, but it is
2. By their own weakness are the feeble sped ; etc.
Three paradoxes "He that loseth his life shall find it."
The vision of Hugh as seen by Jamie corresponds to the description
of Hugh on pages 59 and 60. May we say that Jamie may indeed have
seen Hugh ? The Society for Psychic Research records such phenomena.
16. O, Father, I had paid too much for breath !
For what will a man give his life ? What higher values than life
are there? It is Satan who says in Job, "All that a man hath
will he give for his life."
Show that the principle of Katharsis is illustrated in this poem.
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